CORNWALL -- With its proposed ethanol plant no longer welcome in Cornwall, should the Seaway Valley Farmers' Energy Cooperative move to greener pastures or call it a day?
The co-op's board continues to ponder those options, since city council's recent decision revoking their land.
According to SVFEC president Gord Munroe, the co-op has "received considerable interest from half a dozen private parties and municipalities" proposing alternative sites for the plant. "And we're exploring those," he told The AgriNews May 3.
Munroe would neither confirm nor deny if the former Nestlé coffee-processing factory in Chesterville is among those sites.
After almost 90 years of production, multi-national Nestlé shut down last summer and sold the facility to interests connected with Toronto businessman Malik Khalid in January. Local economic development officials have said the new ownership is interested in leasing the idled Main St. North location, which includes access to rail and self-sufficient water resources.
Real estate recently brought to the co-op's attention spans "a whole range" of options, according to Munroe, from vacant land, to property with correct zoning, to more "far-fetched" proposals. All are in Eastern Ontario, "in the corn growing areas," he said.
Any site would require access to rail and power lines, he noted. "All of those things."
Asked if there was any upside to relocating, Munroe instead pointed to a major drawback: "We would have to go through all the environmental assessments and permits again."
The board hasn't decided the co-op's next step but intends to present a recommendation at a meeting of the general membership to be called "in the near future," he said, declining to be more specific.
"I'm reluctant to give a date on anything because I've had to swallow my words so many times. I'm optimistic we can get it done fairly soon, but I don't want to put a date on it."
Board members have gotten "lots" of calls from shareholders with advice ranging from "encouragement to discouragement," he said. Some have urged wrapping up the project and refunding what's left of their money, while others support starting over at another spot. "Several say, we want our ethanol plant."
"Yeah, maybe, whatever," Alain Leduc, head of the co-op's affiliate, Seaway Grain Processing, Inc., replied when asked about the possibility of moving the plant out of Cornwall. While confirming the board is looking at "a way to salvage the project," Leduc noted no conclusion has been reached. "We're still working, nothing's really changed."
Any recommendation "at the end of the day, has got to be a good deal for everybody," he emphasized.
On March 26, Cornwall Council rejected the SVFEC's plea and upheld its February decision to buy back the 23-acre Industrial Park Drive property, which the city sold to the co-op in 1995.
The city is exercising its legal option to re-acquire the parcel for $205,000 -- triggered by the co-op's failure to develop it within a two-year deadline stipulated in their original sales agreement.
Delayed by a cascading series of untimely circumstances, the beleaguered project was previously granted six deadline extensions.
Project backers had been confident that work would finally begin this summer but couldn't persuade the politicians to give them more time. Council also revived odour concerns as a factor in rejecting the co-op board's final overture.
Cornwall CAO Paul Fitzpatrick told The AgriNews that the city hasn't taken possession of the property and hasn't asked SVFEC staff to vacate the on-site office building. "No final date has been determined" for a transfer of title, Fitzpatrick said May 3, indicating the matter was now under discussion between lawyers for both sides.
Lately estimated at $70-million to $80-million, the SVFEC plant was supposed to produce about 70-million liters of ethanol annually from seven million bushels of corn.
Munroe said the past few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster for members of the board, who have met several times since the city showed them the proverbial door. "Every meeting there seems to be new information. It seems weekly that we go from high hopes to despair sometimes," the SVFEC president said.