Indiana county may drop ownership plans for trash-to-ethanol facility

November 19, 2010

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For several years now, the Lake County, Indiana Solid Waste Management Board has insisted that in order for a nearly $300 million facility to turn trash into ethanol fuel to become reality, it needed to own it.

But now, it may not want to.

Board attorney Cliff Duggan says he plans to present the board a provision that would eliminate the requirement that the county be the owners of the facility once it’s up and running.

That provision will be presented at the board’s next meeting on Dec. 16.

The change in heart came following a three hour public hearing on the proposed facility Thursday evening at the Lake County Government Center in Crown Point, Ind.

Board chair Gerry Scheub said the provision that the county own the facility was to ensure enough trash would get to the plant.

“Our concern was to be able to move the garbage without being sued. And, in order to do that, we did a lot of investigation. This is still being discussed on the board. This is not a dead issue,” Scheub said.

But concerns about taxpayer liability if the county was to own the facility seem to be growing.

One some of the loudest cries against county ownership of the plant are coming from Roy Dominguez, the sheriff of Lake County who is not a member of the solid waste board.

Standing before nearly 200 attendees, most of whom were union tradesmen hoping to work on building the facility, Dominguez said there are risks to taxpayers if they own the facility.

“If you own something, there’s liability, folks. There’s liability,” Dominguez said.

But also behind the board’s change in stance is that the company proposing to build the facility, Powers Energy of America, says it would prefer to be the owner.

“I want to tell you very clearly: We, Powers Energy of America, would love to own this facility,” said company owner Earl Powers.

That fact that Powers Energy, based in Evansville, Ind., wants to own the facility perplexes Dominguez.

“If [Powers Energy wants] to own it, and they say that they do, then why do you, the board members, say otherwise?” Dominguez said. “I’m for the project. I’m for union jobs. But I want the company to own it.”

The 19 municipalities that make up Lake County each have a representative on the solid waste board.

Jeff Langbehn, executive director of the county waste district, says no city or town will be required to send trash to the new facility to be built in the far southern Lake County town of Schneider near the Kankakee River.