In January 2006, the Logan County Board approved Illini Bio-Energy's
request to rezone the property from agriculture to manufacturing,
M-2. The approval included a sunset clause that called for the start
of building on the land within five years.
Present for Illini
Bio-Energy were Tricia Kinner, vice president of administration;
Sara Wilcox, manager of product development; Brian Wrage; and David
Kinner took the floor first, saying, "Our goals have remained the
"We want to create a
new market for corn in Logan County and surrounding counties.
"We also want to
create new jobs for the area.
"We want to reduce dependence on
foreign oil and increase the self-sufficiency of domestic fuels.
"We also believe that Hartsburg is the best place for this to
happen due to the high corn concentration and solid infrastructure
that is already in place."
Kinner said that the company had worked diligently throughout the
last seven years at obtaining and maintaining necessary permits,
which includes updating plans to the latest EPA air quality
requirements and permits for construction. The company has
researched improvements to the site, based on soil tests and
borings, and has been working to maintain historical and biological
integrity of the area with the plant layout and design.
The company has also been working with local departments for
improvements to roads and infrastructure, as well as fire
departments that would like to do test burns on structures now on
the site, Kinner said.
When the company went through this process the first time, they
were not ready to go, she said. Since then the economic downturn has
affected them. They're basically in the process of maintaining the
project so that when funds do become available, they can move.
The company was formed in 2003 with intent to build a coal-fired
corn ethanol plant.
Planning and zoning chair David Hepler inquired if the land,
which has been used to grow crops, is still in production.
Kinner said it is and that it would remain in production until
the project would become feasible.
Hepler commented that for a lot of firms, if things didn't work
out in that same kind of time frame, they would just up and leave.
"I think it's commendable that you have that kind of confidence
in Logan County and the opportunities here," Hepler said. "Not only
do you not want to leave, you want five more years."
Wilcox responded, "We have a determined board. We still believe
in the viability of the project."
She added: "We want to make sure we have a build-ready project so
that when things start to move and we have an opportunity, we can
say, ‘Yes, we still have zoning, we have our construction permits,
we have everything laid out, so we can move quickly.'"
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Wrage explained that while it sounds like a long period of time,
the average (preparation time) for ethanol plants has been seven
years. All the permitting processes take the most time, but what
halted the project now has been the economic crunch.
Committeewoman Jan Schumacher asked what kind of funding the
company was looking for.
Wilcox said banks that typically fund these types of projects
have just pulled back. At this time financing for anything is very
difficult to get, but for ethanol plants it's just dried up. And the
same way with people who want to invest equity. They want to be sure
that things are going to go smoothly, and the political climate
right now has not been conducive to a smooth ride.
The financing will remain difficult to get until people and banks
start getting more comfortable with investing again, "and, we're
starting to see some turnaround on that," Wilcox said.
Schumacher asked if there are tax breaks.
Wilcox said there are not tax breaks for the operation of the
plant, but there are for lenders in ethanol.
She added that currently, interest could be influenced by the
promotion of ethanol, such as if consumers have the option to dial
in the amount of ethanol in their fuel mixture at the pump, and by
the pursuit of more flex-fuel vehicles.
Zoning officer Will D'Andrea said that approving the rezoning and
conditional use for another five years would be advantageous in that
the whole process would not have to be gone through again, and when
ready, it would allow the project to move forward in a timely way.
He added that there would be no disadvantages.
Last month, the Logan County Board unanimously reapproved the
zoning request for another five years.
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