More of the same or new hope in trash-to-ethanol saga?

2012-08-17T13:30:00Z 2012-08-18T13:12:07Z More of the same or new hope in trash-to-ethanol saga?By Marc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
August 17, 2012 1:30 pm  • 

A few days after Earl Powers pledged to county solid waste officials that financing for the trash-to-ethanol plant was all but locked up, he offered to sell his interest in the project, a Powers' business associate confirmed.

Ninety days before Powers made that pledge, he claimed he would have his financing in hand by the July 19 Lake County Solid Waste Management District Board meeting.

Five months prior to the July 19 meeting, board members voted to find Powers in breach of contract after more than three years had passed since he promised to consolidate the processing of county garbage with a trash-to-ethanol plant that has yet to be financed, permitted or built.

Those dates, like so many others concerning the proposed Schneider trash-to-ethanol plant, came and went, with Powers not delivering on his promises in the eyes of many solid waste board members.

On Friday, Schererville Councilman and solid waste board member Hal Slager said it was time for the board to stop "tip-toeing" around with Powers and to move aggressively in another direction.

"At the July 19 board meeting, they were suggesting that they were on the cusp of getting financing in place," said Slager, noting that at that time, Powers officials said they would work to have potential financiers present to address the board at Thursday's meeting. Neither the purported financiers nor Powers attended Thursday's meeting.

"It appears now that their (Powers Energy) statements were not made in good faith pertaining to the financing. I think it's time to move on aggressively, and that includes dealing with Powers."

The solid waste board is slated to meet later this month in a closed executive session to consider the legal ramifications of terminating its contract with Powers Energy of America — a contract that soon could pass to a consortium of region construction contractors who are trying to buy out Earl Powers.

Both the board's attorney, Clifford Duggan, and lawyers from Indianapolis law firm Barnes & Thornburg are expected to advise board members at the executive session regarding potential litigation risks of both canceling and maintaining the Powers Energy contract.

It remained unclear Friday if the consortium -- made up of Superior Construction, Morrison Construction and Continental Electric -- would legally be able to buy the license for the trash-to-ethanol technology from Powers.

Ed Cleveland, who represents the consortium, said his attorneys have been vetting Powers' offer to sell his interest to the consortium since the offer was made a few days after the July 19 board meeting. Powers officials did not return phone calls placed by The Times Friday.

Some solid waste board members, including Lowell Town Council President Phil Kuiper, said news that Cleveland's group could be taking over the contract came as "a breath of fresh air."

Kuiper, who had staunchly supported Powers and the trash-to-ethanol plan, told the board Thursday the consortium, SMC LLC, is a group of local companies that already has a proven record for creating jobs and employing local people.

But other board members aren't sure the project will be different under the consortium.

Cleveland and his group already have been involved with Powers — and have represented Powers' interests at public meetings pertaining to the project — since 2010.

Slager, also a past supporter of the Powers plan, questioned whether the construction contractors would have the expertise and ability to handle garbage and produce ethanol.

With all the change, Slager said, it might be time for the solid waste board to cut its losses, cancel the contract and submit bids for new proposals to consolidate the county's trash processing and collections.

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