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Penn-Mar Ethanol production project is moving forward

April 19, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.

The project manager for Penn-Mar Ethanol LLC says the York, Pa.-based partnership intends to complete the purchase of a $2.24 million parcel for a proposed ethanol production facility in the Cumberland Valley Business Park within the next three months.

"They came by today and dropped off the check for $20,000," John Van Horn, executive director for the Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority said Tuesday. "I look at this being a very strong indication they're going to settle on the land."

"We intend to move forward with that," Project Manager Scott Welsh said of the purchase of the 55-acre parcel for the ethanol facility. Penn-Mar Ethanol has 90 days from Thursday to purchase the land under the agreement, he said.

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"They've got 90 days to scrape up $2.24 million," said DeEtta Antoun, director of Citizens for a Quality Environment, which opposes the project. "We weren't really surprised they came up with the $20,000," she said.

"That's small potatoes compared to what they need to come up with ... and the processes they need to go through" to build the facility, she said.

In February 2005, Penn-Mar Ethanol and LIDA announced an agreement of sale on the property. Penn-Mar put down a $20,000 deposit on the land as part of the sales agreement, which included a five-month review period, Welsh said. The review period was extended another three months in July, when Penn-Mar paid another $20,000, Welsh said. The agreement was amended in September, extending the review period to April 20, he said.

"It is our intention to proceed to closing and settlement of the transaction within 90 days of the expiration of the Extended Review Period," Welsh wrote in a letter to the authority dated Tuesday.

If the sale is not consummated during the 90-day period that begins Thursday, Van Horn said the $60,000 paid by Penn-Mar would be forfeited to LIDA.

The proposed plant, which Welsh said would cost approximately $85 million to build, is the subject of ongoing litigation. Last fall, Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Walsh ruled in favor of Citizens for a Quality Environment and other individuals in a suit asserting that the Greene Township Zoning Hearing Board was wrong in determining an ethanol plant is a permitted use in an industrial zone and erred in approving a height variance requested by Penn-Mar.

Penn-Mar appealed Walsh's decision to Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.

"Both sides have filed briefs and it's likely there will be oral arguments scheduled in Harrisburg (Pa.) shortly," said Frederic G. Antoun, the attorney for Citizens for a Quality Environment.

"We are reasonably confident we are going to win in Commonwealth Court," Frederic Antoun said. "Appellate courts don't commonly overrule lower courts."

DeEtta Antoun said the deadline for closing on the property could come before Penn-Mar's appeal is resolved.

If the higher court affirms Walsh's decision, Frederic Antoun said, Penn-Mar would have to go back to the zoning hearing board and demonstrate the height limitation poses a hardship, or go before the township Board of Supervisors to seek a conditional use permit. If the decision is overturned, Penn-Mar would have to begin the land development process over again, he said.

"We remain convinced the project will never become a reality," DeEtta Antoun said.

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