SCHNEIDER | What had been all excitement regarding a possible economic boon for this south Lake County town is turning into some frustration and deflated spirits, according to one Schneider official.

Town Council President Richard Wright said he still believes Powers Energy of America "has a better than 50 percent chance" of building a controversial $280 million plant in Schneider that would transform the county's municipal garbage into ethanol, but uncertainty is beginning to mount.

Wright has reason to hope for the best.

His town of less than 300 people hasn't grown in years and is hungry for the tax dollars and revenue-sharing Powers and county solid waste officials have promised.

Such money could help hire full-time, paid firefighters and more personnel for the town marshal's office and lead to economic growth of just about everything in town, Wright said. The town currently has a small volunteer firefighting force and a part-time marshal for police work.

But Wright admits continuously missed groundbreaking dates announced by county solid waste officials and the lack of any applications for environmental permits has deflated some spirits.

The Lake County Solid Waste Management District inked a contract with Earl Powers in 2008 to build the plant with a promise of cheaper garbage disposal rates and the ability to turn trash into a fuel alternative instead of disposing of it in a landfill.

Nearly three years later, the proposed plant remains veiled in uncertainty in the eyes of many county and municipal officials.

In May, Lake County waste district officials said Powers Energy had reported being on the cusp of securing the financing for the plant that had eluded the project for years. More recently, district Executive Director Jeff Langbehn said he spoke to a hedge fund manager that confirmed it would finance the plant.

However, company officials have yet to make a formal announcement regarding whether financing has been secured and have refused to identify the entities providing the capital.

Wright now worries that souring financial markets could derail the plan.

County solid waste officials also had announced in May they expected a groundbreaking for the plant -- complete with a reception at Schneider Town Hall -- sometime around Memorial Day.

That never occurred.

Then solid waste officials said at their June board meeting that Powers was planning a groundbreaking for the week preceding or after July 4. That also never occurred.

Each time, promises of announcements for firm groundbreaking dates were said to be a week or two away -- but never came.

Wright said he is done listening to updates from anyone except the owner of the company that plans to build the plant.

"Mr. Powers told me that when he had something concrete to report, he would call me, and I believe him," Wright said. "I'm done listening to anyone else on the matter.

"Don't tell me what's not going to happen. It builds up our hopes only to have the rug pulled out from underneath us."

Powers did not return calls Friday by The Times seeking comment.

But some of Powers' previously reported timelines also apparently have been missed.

In April 2010, solid waste officials reported Powers had told them about possibly beginning construction within 90 days on a $75 million solar farm that would adjoin the Schneider ethanol plant. As of last week, the entire site remained undeveloped.

Schneider Town Clerk-Treasurer Diana Wilson said the frustration also has been apparent among town residents seeking answers in her office.

She said people have come into her office asking for updates on the plant and wanting to apply for jobs there, and Wilson has not been able to provide any answers.

"It's been two years of waiting, hoping and getting the ladder knocked out from under us, and it's depressing," Wright said. "Hopes are down again. We need some good information, and we're not getting it."

source: nwitimes


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