Ag Department shutting down fuel lab - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Ag Department shutting down fuel lab

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Kentucky-run fuel lab testing the gasoline and diesel fuel that you put in your car is being shut down.

It's a decision that highlights millions of dollars in wasted government spending.

It's 10,800 square feet -- 23 rooms in a Frankfort business park costing taxpayers about $200,000 a year in rent.

"This is an example of government waste and hopefully were setting the example of being efficient and transparent," said Ky. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.

The Agriculture Department is shutting down the fuel and pesticides testing lab after a $3.1 million investment in 2008. The idea was to bring all pesticide, gasoline and diesel fuel testing in-house and become a testing hub for other states.

But Comer says when he took office last year, he learned there were no outside contracts and the fuel lab lost nearly $1 million a year.

"I can see where it would seem like a good idea, but there was never any business plan, never any business development," Comer said. "It was just a pie in the sky idea."

The pesticide part of the lab is filled with $400,000 in bunsen burners, equipment and chemicals. Officials say, except for testing in 2008 to make sure it all worked, none of it was ever used.

Comer says the prior administration of Richie Farmer greatly overspent on startup costs. Example: eight distillation machines, when Comer says they only needed two. Five fuel octane testing engines, when only three were ever used.

Comer hopes drivers won't notice a change as fuel tests will once again be sent out to a private lab, saving about $500,000 a year.  He also hopes the bio-fuels department at UK will purchase the old equipment.

WDRB's Gilbert Corsey asked. "Why not put into place a business model that would keep the taxpayers' money from going down the toilet?"

"That's a great question, and why we had a task force come in and others in the business community look at it," said Comer. "No one could put together a business model that worked out."

Commissioner Comer calls this shutdown another part of the cleanup from the Richie Farmer administration.

He also announced Wednesday the departure of Bruce Harper, who spent 7 years as the director of outreach in the Agriculture department. Officials say Harper is named in three of the ethics violations under the Farmer administration. Comer appointed Larry Cox to replace him as Deputy AG-Commissioner. Cox served as the state director for U-S Senator Mitch McConnell for 30 years.

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