Prominent pastor says he was misled on methane plant pledge - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Prominent pastor says he was misled on methane plant pledge

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A deal brokered by Mayor Greg Fischer that would invest $5 million in neighborhoods near a proposed western Louisville methane plant hit a snag Thursday after a prominent community leader claimed he was misled.

At a news conference to announce the pledge from Heaven Hill Brands and STAR BioEnergy, which plans the project at 17th and Maple streets, Rev. Kevin Cosby said project officials told him a building on S. 15th Street would be donated to Simmons College of Kentucky – only to change their minds.

“When I came on this lot, they tried to renege on what they told me they were going to do,” said Cosby, the college’s president and pastor of St. Stephen Church.

The old Schenley Distillery Building at 822 S.15th St. and four adjoining acres would be given “to the community” for the benefit of Simmons and Kentucky State University in Frankfort, according to a fact sheet on the “community benefits” package given to reporters.

But Cosby said that’s not what was promised in negotiations.

“They told me that this building would be dedicated to Simmons College, that Simmons would own it. They told me that $500,000 would be given to Simmons at the start, $500,000 would be given to Simmons at the end,” he said.

Cosby stopped short of saying whether the deal is contingent on Simmons getting ownership of the property.

"That question is a question that the group has to discuss, because this was never about Simmons. ... I can't make that decision because it was a collection promise, so therefore it has to be a collective response," he said after the news conference.

Fischer told reporters after the news conference that the negotiations among the parties will continue in the weeks leading up to a meeting of Metro government’s Board of Zoning Adjustment later this month. The board’s approval is a key hurdle for the $22 million project, which will convert grains from Heaven Hill at STAR BioEnergy’s methane plant.

Among other things, the tentative agreement announced Thursday calls for the companies to set aside $3.5 million for a West Louisville Community Benefits Fund; a commitment from STAR BioEnergy to hire minorities for 30 percent of an estimated 100 construction jobs; limit incoming truck traffic to 10 per day.

“What’s important for the community is that there’s a $5 million community benefit here,” Fischer told reporters. “And I’ll be really disappointed if there’s infighting within the community that blows that deal.”

He acknowledged that the sides disagree on some of the details, but he said he expects they will be resolved before the BOZA meeting.

 “It’s clear that some of those details need to be worked out and there’s some different points of view on that,” Fischer said. “So give it a little time and it’ll be worked out.”

Brian Zoeller, a Louisville attorney representing STAR BioEnergy, declined to say if the deal, as it stands now, will give the building to Simmons.

“Those details we’re still working out on how to best do that,” he said after the news conference. “The commitment is that Simmons will benefit from this property.”

Heumann LLL owns the property, which is assessed for tax purposes at $2.1 million, according to the Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator. STAR BioEnergy has an option to buy it, according to Fischer's office.

STAR BioEnergy, based in Fort Wayne, Ind., scrapped plans for a plant at the West Louisville Food Port but still intends to build one at 17th and Maple, near a Heaven Hill distillery.

Neighbors have raised concerns about emissions, truck traffic and odors from the plant. Protesters who attended Thursday’s press conference held signs that read, “Stop dumping on us,” “Boycott Evan Williams Bourbon,” and “We Don’t Want It.”

Fischer and Metro Council member Mary Woolridge, D-3rd District, both emphasized that the companies’ pledge is voluntary.

In a fiery speech, Woolridge said she fought to get benefits for the California neighborhood, but that she is “reluctantly supporting this next step.”

“It sends another message to West Louisville that their concerns are secondary to the almighty dollar. Another reason I’m reluctant: It fuels the ongoing belief that backroom deals can buy and elevate leaders who will try to suppress the people for their own personal agendas,” she said.

Woolridge told dozens of people gathered at the Schenley building lot that she doesn’t believe the project should be located in a residential neighborhood – a remark that prompted a man to shout, “Put it in the mayor’s backyard!”

She also challenged Fischer and companies that want to locate projects in “our community” to engage residents up front.

“I want everybody here today listening – the media, the mayor and everybody – don’t continue to dump on this community because we will not, we will not continue to allow this.”

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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