11/12/06 — Proposed biodiesel plant faces new delay

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Proposed biodiesel plant faces new delay

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on November 12, 2006 2:01 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- The project is the same, but the investors have changed. The money is still there, but it's going to a different location. It's been two years, but now the town is facing a deadline to spend its grant.

And all the while, Mount Olive officials are waiting for Atlantic Bio-Energy to finalize its plans to build a new bio-diesel manufacturing facility in their industrial park.

"It's kind of an odd situation," Town Manager Charles Brown said. "We're still waiting for them to say 'yes, we're going to come.' We had a groundbreaking, and we have the money locked up, but what's going to happen now is in a different location."

Two years ago, he explained, Atlantic Bio-Energy, which was formed by the Grain Growers Cooperative Inc., agreed to build a new plant in Mount Olive.

At the time, the 15-million- to 20-million-gallon-a-year capacity plant was supposed to be built near the intersection of the old Mount Olive Highway and N.C. 55 and employ about 24 people. It was scheduled to begin operations this year, utilizing renewable resources such as soy oil and rendered and yellow grease to produce bio-diesel.

However, Brown said he understands that changes in the project's investor group have resulted in the two-year delay.

Despite that, there were indications that the group was ready to make an announcement about two weeks ago, but that, too, has now been delayed. There is no timetable.

"Nothing has started yet," said Sam Brake, manager of the Grain Growers Co-op. "We're still trying to get the pieces of the puzzle together. We're just in a little bit of a precarious situation right now."

Since the original announcement in 2004, the plant site has changed locations and is now scheduled to go into the town's industrial park on the old Mount Olive Highway, between N.C. 55 and the Mount Olive Airport It is expected to have about a 30-million-gallon capacity.

"It's not going to be a huge plant, but I think it has a lot of potential for growth," Brown said.

The only problem right now, he said, is that the N.C. Rural Center is beginning to get impatient as it waits for its money to be spent.

In 2004, the Rural Center gave Mount Olive a $132,000 grant to help fund the installation of water and sewer lines to the plant site.

"They would like to know something by Dec. 31," Brown said. "They haven't set that as a drop-dead date, but they want a plan by the end of year.

"Potentially what may happen is that they reallocate these funds and we have to reapply for them. The Rural Center doesn't think it'll be an issue to get the funds again, but I sure hate to let it go. Once you've got the money in your hand, you hate to let it go."