Northwest Indiana county won’t own ethanol plant

December 17, 2010

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Lake County, Indiana, won’t be in the business of owning an ethanol plant after all.

The county’s solid waste management board voted Thursday night to allow the developer, Powers Energy of America, to own the facility.

“Everybody is more confident of what we’re doing now,” board chair Gerry Scheub said following the meeting in Crown Point. “Everyone’s a little more relaxed now.”

The Evansville, Indiana-based Powers Energy of America proposed building the $250 million plant in Lake County more than three years ago. From the very start, the county planned to own the facility because that could guarantee the plant would receive a steady supply of trash from local municipalities. Right now that trash heads to landfills.

But in recent months, member of the public, and even an elected official, voiced concern about the county’s financial liability if things didn’t work out.

County sheriff, Roy Dominguez, was the loudest of the naysayers. Dominguez drew the wrath of union tradesmen who felt the sheriff’s opposition to county ownership would jeopardize hundreds of temporary construction jobs.

Dominguez said he was never against the project-- just the county’s ownership of it.

He praised the board’s decision to let Powers Energy of America own the plant outright.

“I think it’s very positive for our community because now we’re now subject to any legal or financial exposure,” Dominguez said.

But loss of ownership also means loss of control at the plant, said Jeffrey Langbehn, director of the county’s solid waste management district.

“We don’t have ownership and therefore we don’t have liability. We also lose a measure of control,” Langbehn said. “With ownership, in the event the facility is not being run properly, I walk in and seize the plant. It’s mine. I don’t have that luxury now. I have to use a different legal mechanism that is much longer and more burdensome.”

No one from Powers Energy attended the meeting.

At a sometimes heated and packed meeting a month ago, Earl Powers, owner of the company, said he wanted to own the plant. Certain provisions of the county’s altered agreement to allow Powers to own the plant still need to be worked out with the company.