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05-01-06 Commissioners backtrack on ethanol letter

By Tim Cox

  Mercer County Commissioners will not be signing a letter of commitment that names Mercer Energy LLC as the central player in the county's push for an ethanol production plant.

  Commissioners last week had tentatively decided to sign the letter with the company comprised of local farmers, but assistant Prosecuting Attorney Amy Ikerd has recommended against signing the letter in its current form. County officials still could sign a letter of support for the ethanol project after Ikerd completes the legal review and makes a recommendation, Mercer County Commissioner Jerry Laffin said this morning.

  A letter from Mercer Energy executives requested that "all future ethanol related activities and inquiries with respect to a Mercer County ethanol production facility be directed through Mercer Energy LLC." Mercer Energy officials said in the letter that it would be most beneficial if the company "acts as the single source for all future communications flow for the ethanol project, especially topics focused on business development, financing, procurement, engineering and construction details."

  Commissioners said they were willing to designate the insider status to Mercer Energy over a Lima group that also is looking to build an ethanol plant because of the group's local roots.

  Laffin said Ikerd is working with Mercer Energy's attorney to come up with language that is agreeable to both sides.  "She recommended we not sign the one we had, but we're still working to come up with something," Laffin said. "I think we will probably still sign some type of letter."

  The new letter likely will be a statement of general support for the Mercer Energy project instead of actually making the company a central player in the process.

Mercer Energy is pursuing a 50-million-gallon plant that would require 18 million bushels of corn annually to operate. In addition to ethanol that can be blended with gasoline, the plant also would produce high-quality livestock feed.

Mercer Energy officials are looking at a new production technology that is different than the traditional wet-mill and dry-mill processes of turning corn into ethanol.

  Mercer Energy officials say their proposal provides the most direct benefits to the entire community. Grain farmers will see increases in corn prices while livestock producers will have a better feed alternative available and it will cost them less to feed their herds and flocks, they said.

  Another company, Lima-based Greater Ohio Ethanol, also is looking at Mercer County as the possible site for a new ethanol plant. That company is in the process of building six plants across the state.

  Greater Ohio Ethanol President Greg Kruger has not returned messages seeking comment on the status of his company's project.


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