Senior executives with the $50-million Seaway Valley ethanol project expect it to clear its last remaining hurdle by the end of this month.
Only what would normally be called routine air quality and environmental assessment sign-offs stand betwen the decade-old plant and a construction start at the Cornwall site, say Seaway Valley officials Ed Schouten and Bud Atkins.
Meanwhile, Cornwall Mayor Phil Poirier, who owns 25 shares in Seaway Valley, has been muzzled in promoting the project at this critical juncture after a fellow council member pushed him to declare a conflict of interest. Poirier has received legal advice to refrain from discussing the ethanol plant in any way.
Even with the necessary permits in place, neither Schouten nor Atkins expects shovels to go into the ground this winter. Itís far more likely, they say, that contractors will wait until spring while they complete final preperations.
"Just because thereís no sign of activity at the site, it wonít mean the project isnít moving forward," Schouten said.
Schouten is president of project sponsor Seaway Valley Farmers Energy Co-Operative; Atkins is president of the co-op operating arm, Seaway Grain Processors.
Held back due to insufficient cash and other obstacles, the project finally got its financial footing last year with a $10.5-million injection from the federal ethanol expansion program.
Holding the plant up now is final air quality approval from the Ministry of Environment which is
investigating anticipated plant discharges in the wake of concerns expressed by area residents at two public meetings. A federal environmental assessment must also be finalized.
"MOE has asked us three times for additional information," Schouten said. "We know someone was working on our approval right through the Holidays."
Typically, Schouten said, state-of-the-art ethanol plants donít produce any unpleasant odours.
Atkins added that foul smells can only occur temporarily by accident, something rare in the ethanol distilling business. A piece of equipment worth $1.5 million will be installed in the
Cornwall plant to filter emissions before they leave the site.
Meanwhile, environmental group Clean Air Cornwall has confirmed itís not opposed to the plant being constructed in an east-end industrial park. CACís approach is to rectify potential problems in advance, chairman Dr. Jeff Ridal has specified, adding his group has made technical suggestions relating to plant odours.
Poirier is being challenged for his previous public support of the project by Councillor Chris Savard, who is seeking legal advice in the matter. Savard said that, in consultation with his council colleagues, heíll decide in the near future what action to take.
Poirier indicated frustration in being restricted in pumping for new ethanol plant jobs when Domtar Inc. has announced the shut down of part of its Cornwall operations - effective in March - eliminating 400 well-paying positions.
The mayor explained that, in 1995, he purchased 25 Seaway Valley shares from Atkins who was selling them door-to-door to Cornwall businesspeople.
"I bought them to support a worthwhile community venture," Poirier explained. "With only a few shares, thereís no way Iíll get a windfall when the plant goes ahead."
While heíd previously served a first round as city mayor, Poirier was in private business at the time of purchase.
Noting there are 162,000 shares held by ethanol plant supporters, Atkins said the initial investment was spent on startup costs.
"The shares wonít have any value until the plant is operating and making money."