03/01/07 — Biodiesel plant not coming to Wayne

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Biodiesel plant not coming to Wayne

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 1, 2007 1:53 PM

After four years of waiting, Mount Olive's hopes for a large biodiesel facility were dashed Wednesday when Atlantic BioEnergy announced through the Wayne County Develop-ment Alliance that it would not be building a processing plant in the Mount Olive Industrial Park.

The reason, Alliance President Joanna Thompson said, was money.

"It was a financial issue," she said. "That's the bottom line.

"The project itself was very feasible as far as the concept and what they wanted to do, but a lot of things have changed since they first developed this project. The costs and the financial aspect of it, I think, just got a little bit out of control."

In a letter to the Alliance, Atlantic BioEnergy Board of Directors chairman Jeff Edwards explained that the decision to cancel the project was based purely on economic considerations. Atlantic BioEnergy was created by the North Carolina Grain Growers Cooperative in 2004.

"We began this project four years ago," Edwards wrote. "Construction costs have escalated sharply, marketing conditions have changed and the federal government's energy plan is still up in the air. We simply cannot continue with the scope of the project with as much risk that is present at this time."

When asked for further comment, Edwards declined.

It was an ambitious project -- completely unlike the other small boutique plants existing along the East Coast that serve only their immediate 30- to 50-mile radiuses, Ms. Thompson said.

The plan for this plant was to produce 30 million gallons of bio-diesel per year, using primarily soy oil, but also other sources such as animal fat. It would have employed about 30 people.

"It was going to be a very large project," Ms. Thompson said. "This was going to be the only facility of its kind east of the Mississippi."

But even though things had seemed to be on track in recent months and weeks, the project's cancellation came as only a mild surprise.

"We are obviously disappointed they are not coming," Mount Olive Town Manager Charlie Brown said. "It would have been a good fit for the Mount Olive area.

"I still felt we were still on go probably as late as last week, but after four years of waiting, some people were a little skeptical anyway."

Now, Mount Olive and Wayne County must move on and try and find other industrial partners.

"We knew there were some challenges with the budget, but we were hopeful the board could get those issues ironed out," Ms. Thompson said. "This is disappointing news for Mount Olive and Wayne County.

"We'll just have to go to plan B on the property proposed for that project and find another industry. What we'll do now is we'll start aggressively marketing that property as an industrial site."

She stressed that being strung along for four years did not hurt the town's or the county's chances for landing another industry and she stressed that there was nothing else that either entity could have done to make the project come together for Atlantic BioEnergy. In his letter to Ms. Thompson, Edwards confirmed that Mount Olive and Wayne County had done all they could.

"They didn't need anything else from us," Ms. Thompson said. "We had some things (grants for water and sewer and rail expansion) we were ready to pull the trigger on.

"We had some things we had promised to do if it came to fruition, but we never had any money tied up in this project."

She did not know if the project might ever be resurrected, but she emphasized that it was not a matter of the company deciding to look elsewhere.

"The Mount Olive Industrial Park is a great site," she said. "That site has just as good potential as anything in eastern North Carolina."