Powers warns of possible lawsuit following cancellation of trash-to-ethanol deal

2013-04-19T13:16:00Z 2013-04-20T23:55:04Z Powers warns of possible lawsuit following cancellation of trash-to-ethanol dealBy Marc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com

Potential lawsuits are brewing in Lake County's trash-to-ethanol saga, according to a motion by solid waste officials and statements from the developer who had contracted to build and operate the plant.

And it could come down to the question of who will file first: the Lake County Solid Waste Management District to recoup $236,580 it has spent to vet the project — or the developer, who told The Times on Friday he has suffered more than $1 billion in damages now that the contract has been terminated.

That developer, Evansville-based Powers Energy of America CEO Earl Powers, learned Friday of the waste district board's Thursday night decision to terminate the contract. Powers said his company acted in good faith to make a trash-to-ethanol plant a reality in Lake County.

But he said his efforts were thwarted by the waste district's inability to get community commitments for at least 1,000 tons of trash per day to be processed at the facility. Powers said his company lost out on potential financing from various firms because of the district's inaction.

"It's impossible to finance anything without a waste stream," Powers said.

"We believe we have clearly well over $1 billion in damages, and that's not going to be easily satisfied," Powers said.

Lake County Solid Waste Management District Executive Director Jeff Langbehn and attorney Clifford Duggan said Friday they could not discuss potential litigation. But Langbehn said he feels comfortable that language in the contract sufficiently protects the district.

Powers sent a letter to the waste district Wednesday, admonishing them not to cancel the more than four-year-old contract as some district board members had been threatening.

"... I caution you to act responsibly with regard to (contract) termination proceedings," Powers wrote in a letter that was made public late Thursday. "Should the district decide to terminate the agreement ... rest assured that the company may be left with no alternative but to pursue damages based upon the wrongful termination of the agreement."

Seemingly not fazed by Powers' threat of a potential lawsuit in the letter, the waste district board voted 19-0 Thursday night to kill the contract after more than four years of missed deadlines and Powers' failure to secure financing for the proposed plant.

The waste district also opened the door for its own potential litigation Thursday. The same board motion to kill the contract contained language authorizing the district to recoup the money it spent on studying the viability of the trash-to-ethanol process and other legal work associated with the plan.

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