WILLIAM NANGLE: Wake up from lengthy trash-to-ethanol dream

2012-10-02T00:00:00Z WILLIAM NANGLE: Wake up from lengthy trash-to-ethanol dreamBy William Nangle nwitimes.com
October 02, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Watch for the blame game to begin.

Gerry Scheub and Co. have about run the course in pushing development of a trash-to-ethanol plant in Lake County.

The project, estimated to cost $300 million, is no further along than it was nearly four years ago. No land. No financing. No proven disposal method.

Earl Powers, the Evansville businessman who brought the trash-to-ethanol idea to the Lake County Solid Waste Management District Board, is apparently bowing out and trying to sell his unproven technology to a bunch of local contractors. While they expressed early on a desire to assume Powers’ contract with the waste board, their enthusiasm seems to be waning as reality sets in.

The contractors –- at the least -- are to be thanked for trying to help create a countywide waste disposal operation. It is an urgent but unmet need. The truth is, though, contractors build things, having limited if any experience running a massive waste disposal system.

But as someone pointed out to me last week, it’s also understandable that as the $3 billion BP project in Whiting winds down, contractors and trade unions are looking to lock up work on another major project. Building a $300 million trash-to-ethanol facility could guarantee a lot of local jobs.

Knowing that, however, can’t change the fact the trash-to-ethanol plan is as bad today as when fist introduced by Powers.

Times Investigative Editor Marc Chase detailed in Sunday editions the status of the project, that it is going nowhere slowly. He didn't offer an opinion, but many readers responded online with their opinions. It is clear they want this trashy idea to die.

Here’s some excerpts from comments they wrote:

• “No one in the country is using garbage as fuel…no one. Time to deep six this thing.”

• “Just how many times or ways does this outfit (waste board) need to be told no?”

• “It’s time to put an end to this nonsense.”

• “If the technology can’t be proven by anyone three years later, why are we still considering it?”

• “This seems to be built on wishful thinking that the technology will work on municipal garbage as well as organic waste.”

• “(It’s) a get-rich scheme for a select politically connected few.”

There seems to be little question as to how the citizens, aka voters, of Lake County feel about this.

Even so, County Commissioner Scheub still plugs away trying to bring what amounts to a pipe dream to life. From Rotary Club to coffee shop, Scheub has been on the talking circuit pushing trash-to-ethanol.

But as it’s been said, “People who have nothing to say are never at a loss in talking.” That seems to be a tight fit for Scheub.

He, of course, is not alone in the years-long effort to get a trash-to-ethanol facility built. Jeff Langbehn, director of the waste board, is Scheub’s partner.

All I have to do, though, is remember that Langbehn was a party to a botched Hickory Hills landfill deal that cost taxpayers $8 million for virtually nothing. Enough said.

Finally, there is the waste board. Made up of representatives of the cities and towns in Lake County, the board is charged with developing a workable and efficient countywide waste disposal system. So far a majority of its members have agreed to delay after delay, waiting on Powers to deliver.

For me, when you have to make a decision and don't, that in itself is a decision. That’s what the board has done time and again by playing Powers’ game of bait, wait and delay.

Well, I have to agree with the citizen comments. It is time -- no, it is past time -- to drop the trash-to-ethanol idea. The board needs to face up to the fact it’s wasted nearly four years. It needs to trash the Powers deal, open the door for new proposals and quickly complete the job taxpayers gave it.

William Nangle is executive editor of The Times. He can be reached at The Times, 601 45th St., Munster, IN 46321 or at bill.nangle@nwi.com.

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