Lake County officials cancel trash-to-ethanol contract

2013-04-18T21:00:00Z 2013-04-19T13:36:04Z Lake County officials cancel trash-to-ethanol contractMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
April 18, 2013 9:00 pm  • 

After four years of failed attempts to get a Lake County trash-to-ethanol plant off the drawing room floor, waste district officials unanimously canceled the contract Thursday with a would-be developer.

The 19-0 vote by the Lake County Solid Waste Management District Board to cancel the contract came after years of collapsed financing plans, missed deadlines and the recent retreat of a local construction consortium that had once planned to take over the contract.

In November 2008, the waste district inked a contract with Evansville-based Powers Energy of America under which the company was to build and operate a facility that would consolidate the county's trash collections and convert carbon-based garbage into ethanol.

The facility also was supposed to sort out all metals, plastic and other recyclables to sell for a profit and pay millions of dollars in host fees back into the district and the town of Schneider, where it was to be located.

However, the repeated inability of Powers to secure financing and show the process to be viable finally caught up with the plan Thursday, some waste district board members said.

Expressing disappointment in what he called Powers Energy's failure to deliver, Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub — once the project's biggest political supporter — made the motion to terminate the contract. Scheub's motion also asked for the district to seek reimbursement from Powers Energy for costs associated with vetting the project.

"It's now clear and apparent Powers has not been and is not able to perform," Scheub said.

But in a letter dated Wednesday to the solid waste district, Powers Energy CEO Earl Powers said his company has been diligent in pursuing funding for the project.

Powers' letter also blamed the waste district for "hindrances imposed on the company's efforts" that he claims resulted in "more hardship."

Powers said annual changes in the board membership, "numerous, and often negative" public interrogations of company officials by board members and a lack of commitments of garbage to the project all hurt his chances at securing financing for the project.

It didn't help Powers' cause last month that a consortium of three Northwest Indiana construction contractors opted against their initial plan of buying out Powers Energy and taking over the contract, some board members said.

The consortium had been waiting on an announcement about operations from a similar plant recently built in Florida before committing to taking over the INEOS Bio technology license that Powers holds. That announcement never came.

Waste district board member and Griffith Councilman Rick Ryfa, a Republican, already had sought termination of the contract at previous board meetings.

But Scheub and the board's Democratic majority at past meetings voted to give Powers and the consortium more time to come up with financing.

"The realization has finally set in that this (a trash-to-ethanol project) was probably not going to happen in Lake County," Ryfa said after Thursday's meeting. "Sound legal advice finally resulted in the right decision being made tonight."

When it was first proposed about six years ago, trash-to-ethanol was hailed as a possible cheaper alternative to the private landfills that are currently used for disposal of region garbage. However, several board members, including Ryfa, have argued since that time that the process remains commercially unproven on a large scale.

Scheub, D-Crown Point, has said other alternative waste disposal companies have approached him pitching plans that include a trash-to-diesel plant and other processes.

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