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Missed dealine cripples ethanol project

July 21, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Penn-Mar Ethanol failed to close the deal on a $2.2 million land purchase at the Cumberland Valley Business Park by midnight Wednesday, meaning the 55-acre parcel will go back on the market.

Scott Welsh, the project manager for Penn-Mar, and LIDA Executive Director John Van Horn confirmed Thursday that the York, Pa., partnership did not meet the deadline.

Welsh said Thursday he could not comment on Penn-Mar's future plans.

"We have had the public and private support of thousands of Franklin County residents in opposing construction of the Penn-Mar ethanol distillery over the past 17 months," DeEtta Antoun, the director of Citizens for a Quality Environment, said in a statement issued Thursday.

"When you have so many people concerned about a proposed development, and actively involved in opposing it, they can definitely affect the outcome," Antoun said.

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On Monday, the board of directors of LIDA, which runs the business park, took no action on a request made by Welsh to extend the agreement of sale up to another year. Welsh said Monday that Penn-Mar wanted more time to resolve a legal challenge to the ethanol facility by Citizens for a Quality Environment and a group of area residents.

Penn-Mar offered LIDA $30,000 to keep the property off the market for another six months, with an option for another six months for $30,000 if needed.

"We were confident in the outcome of the court case, but financial folks are pretty conservative" and wanted the agreement of sale extended until the case was resolved, Welsh said Thursday. A potential financial investor was with Penn-Mar representatives at Monday's meeting to "inform LIDA that the commitment to buy the land was still there," Welsh said.

Last year, Court of Common Pleas Judge Richard Walsh ruled that the Greene Township Zoning Hearing Board had erred in deciding that an ethanol facility was a permitted use in a township industrial zone and in granting a variance to the township's height limit. The decision meant that Penn-Mar would have had to go through the conditional use permitting process, which would have required public hearings and the possible imposition of conditions on its operations.

Penn-Mar appealed that decision to Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.

"I can't say specifically at this point," Welsh said when asked if Penn-Mar would withdraw the appeal.

"I would not expect them to withdraw the appeal," said Frederic Antoun, the legal counsel for Citizens for a Quality Environment. "They may yet have plans to do something in Greene Township."

Oral arguments on the case are scheduled for Sept. 11, after which the court will make its decision on the appeal, Antoun said.

"We're prepared to go up and argue our case," he said.

When the agreement of sale was announced in February 2005, Penn-Mar officials said they intended to build an $80 million plant capable of distilling up to 60 million gallons of the fuel additive a year from 20 million bushels of corn. Opposition to the plan soon sprouted among residents concerned about the environmental impact and safety of the proposed plant.

Penn-Mar Ethanol had made $60,000 in nonrefundable payments to LIDA for the agreement of sale and a previous extension.

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