By Tim Cox
A proposal to build a $600 million ethanol plant east of Celina has apparently fallen apart, but the group of 13 regional farmers involved with the project remain committed to bringing an ethanol facility to the area.
"Timing and financing" issues derailed the original proposal, said Jim VanTilburg, one of 13 members of Ohio Corn Processors Inc. Members of the group for the past couple of weeks had said they are at a critical juncture in raising finances for the project -- which would have rated as one of the largest ethanol facilities in the world.
The group appeared close to realizing its goal after scheduling a business meeting last week to present the formal plan to potential local investors. But that meeting was scratched less than 48 hours after it was scheduled and was not rescheduled.
Officials involved with the project were confident they could raise more than the $700,000 in local investment they needed to continue with the project, VanTilburg said. However, facing a tight, 30-day deadline imposed by the larger investors they were dealing with, group members decided it was going to be impossible to set up the legal investment entity necessary to accept the new investment, he said. The local investment would have allowed the group to leverage other commitments from other businesses involved in the deal to build the multi-million dollar facility.
"It became obvious we could not accomplish what needed to be accomplished in that amount of time," VanTilburg said. But two years of research and planning will not be wasted, investors and local officials said. The proposed ethanol plant had broad community support, so officials plan to continue to pursue ethanol opportunities.
"An ethanol plant is good for the community, good for agriculture and good for the USA," VanTilburg said.
County Community Development Director Larry Stelzer said he believes Mercer County has a leg up on other communities vying for ethanol plants because of the preliminary work that has been done. Local governments already have agreed to help make the project a reality by cooperating on infrastructure issues, and the county still holds an option on 80 acres of land owned by Jonny Dicke, who supports the ethanol push and reportedly is trying to become a member of the Ohio Corn Processors investment group. The land has enough available water to meet a plant's needs, and the nearby R.J. Corman railroad line also is a necessity for any plant.
Lt. Gov. and Ohio Department of Development Director Bruce Johnson confirmed that Mercer County has a "leg up" on other places trying to attract investment in ethanol, Stelzer said. Johnson was in town Wednesday for a speech to local business and government leaders.
Luke VanTilburg, Jim VanTilburg's son, said the proposed site east of Celina is perfect for an ethanol plant.
"We have an excellent site and great community support," he said.
Johnson told Stelzer he expects three to five new ethanol facilities to break ground in Ohio within the next year. Jim VanTilburg said it remains possible a Mercer County plant could be among them
Officials are shopping their site and preliminary groundwork to large investors who have plans to build ethanol facilities but have not selected where to build them. Early discussions have been held with two such firms, Jim VanTilburg said. A formal presentation is being planned with one of the companies, Stelzer said.
The development group also will consider either dry-mill or wet-mill ethanol plants. The original proposal called for a wet-milling plant that would produce not only ethanol but also livestock feed and various other byproducts. Dry-mill plants produce ethanol and a different type of feed grain. Wet-milling plants are considered to be more economically viable because they produce more products, but they also are more expensive to build.
"We're going to open it up and look at all options," Stelzer said.