Fight over methane plant in West Louisville turns racial - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Fight over methane plant in West Louisville turns racial

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A rendering of the planned biodigester. A rendering of the planned biodigester.
The building that was supposed to be donated to Simmons College of Kentucky as part of the deal. The building that was supposed to be donated to Simmons College of Kentucky as part of the deal.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The fight over a methane plant in West Louisville is turning into a racial debate. It's coming down to three things: money, property and control.

Faith, education and activist groups forming the West Louisville First organization rallied Monday at the corner of 17th and Maple Streets, the site of a proposed biodigester. The methane plant would turn distillery waste into natural gas. 

"For far to long, the interests of West Louisville have become last on the list," said Rev. Clay Calloway of West Louisville First.

Neighbors have fought to block the project citing safety concerns. Last week, Mayor Greg Fischer's office called a press conference when it looked like a $5 million deal had been reached with several key West Louisville leaders, but it turned into a public fallout. 

"They tried to renege on what they told me they were going to do," said Dr. Kevin Cosby, President of Simmons College of Kentucky.

Neighbors now say they want leaders to live up to the guarantees made for how the project would benefit West Louisville. 

"Do not let anyone back down out of the deal," shouted Rev. Milton Seymore of the Justice Resource Center. "They promised it. You make them keep it."

West Louisville First produced a list of 12 demands for the city and the team behind the biodigester project, but really it comes down to just two things: a building and money. The group says Star BioEnergy promised to donate the old Schenley Distillery property near 15th Street and Broadway to Simmons College of Kentucky, along with $1 million for renovation. 

"If this was U of L, or Bellarmine, or Spalding they would have...had this building," said Simmons Student Richard Hughes. "We want what we deserve," Hughes said. "We want what we earned -- and that is this building for the dorms and student center of Simmons College of Kentucky. And if we don't get it, consequences will happen."

Heaven Hill Brands was to give $2.5 million over 10 years to West Louisville. 

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer praised the donation at his press conference last Thursday."Here's a company ready to step up for the first time in the history of our city," said Fischer. But the deal went downhill at the Nov. 5 media event. The key leaders including Cosby who negotiated with the developers want African Americans to control the millions in corporate donation money.

"We're calling upon Mayor Greg Fischer: that he should not seek to control, manage, reroute or redirect private funds that was intended for Simmons College," said Calloway.

Star BioEnergy and Heaven Hill brand representatives did not return WDRB's requests for comments. 

Late Monday afternoon, Mayor Fischer's office released a statement saying, "The mayor will not appoint members to the foundation or control its funds...He remains optimistic that an agreement will be reached." 

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