Kill the trash-to-ethanol contract or grant another in a long line of extensions?

2012-07-18T18:30:00Z 2012-07-19T06:53:25Z Kill the trash-to-ethanol contract or grant another in a long line of extensions?By Marc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com

Lake County solid waste officials have an opportunity Thursday night either to stand firm on a deadline for a would-be trash-to-ethanol developer to secure financing or grant yet another in a long line of extensions.

While it remained uncertain Wednesday how the Lake County Solid Waste Management District Board will act at its monthly meeting Thursday night, one board member said it may be time to end a more than three-year process during which the Lake County trash-to-ethanol plan has failed to materialize.

"Powers Energy of America was instructed at the April (board) meeting to have cash in hand by July 19 or be considered in breach of contract," Griffith Councilman and waste district board member Rick Ryfa said Wednesday.

"If 100 percent proof of financing is not provided, each member must decide for themselves and the constituents that we represent if we want to be firm on the well-thought-out deadline or grant another extension based on a promise from an equity partner ..."

For more than three years, Lake County municipal leaders watched and waited — but largely did not act — on an interlocal agreement pledging their garbage to the yet-to-be-realized trash-to-ethanol plant.

Now, at a time when Powers Energy of America, the company that would build the plant, has been found in breach of contract by the public board with which it contracted, several Lake County communities have signed nonbinding agreements to send their garbage to the would-be facility — should it ever be financed and built.

Some officials have said communities have nothing to lose by signing the agreement because it is nonbinding and would lock in a low garbage disposal rate if the plant ever becomes a reality.

Ryfa, whose town officials voted against the interlocal agreement and opposed the Powers contract in 2008, said the time has come to cancel the contract if Powers Energy cannot show all money for the more than $300 million facility is in hand.

"We have reached the end of our time limit, and I think several board members are ready to act if they can't show financing," Ryfa said.

The Times was scheduled to speak with waste district Executive Director Jeff Langbehn and attorney Clifford Duggan on Wednesday in advance of the Thursday board meeting. However, Langbehn and Duggan canceled the meeting Wednesday morning, saying they had been instructed by senior board leadership not to comment on the issue until Thursday's board meeting.

Though it remains unclear how the district's board will act, it meets Thursday as the deadline expires for Powers Energy of America to show it has secured all financing for the plant.

In an April district board meeting, the board gave Powers Energy 90 days to secure all financing for constructing the Schneider plant or face possible contract termination. That deadline followed a similar 60-day timeline after which Powers failed to secure financing.

Powers officials repeatedly were asked during the April meeting if they could meet that deadline, and they said yes.

But in recent weeks, Powers Energy officials have said they intend to have a "letter of intent" by Thursday's meeting, showing that an equity partner could supply up to 25 percent of the plant's financing. They have said bonds would still need to be sold to raise the rest of the construction costs.

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