Deal gives port time

EAST LIVERPOOL -The Columbiana County Port Authority has until 2015 to obtain a commitment to develop the former Baard Energy property or repay $148,000 in state funding in 2016.

The port authority board agreed to the compromise last week and in doing so avoided having to repay the entire $305,500 the state awarded for the defunct Baard project.

The port authority received two state grants to secure options to acquire land in Yellow Creek Township for Baard Energy’s proposed coal-to-liquid fuel plant. The first grant was in 2007 and for $157,500, followed by a second grant in the amount of $148,000 awarded in 2008.

The Ohio Development Services Agency, formerly the Department of Development, maintained both grants were tied to the creation of 200 jobs from the Baard project. This was disputed by Tracy Drake, port authority chief executive officer, who said language in the 2007 grant for $157,500 clearly required Baard, not them, create the 200 jobs by 2010. He conceded the 2008 grant for $148,000 shifted the job-creation responsibility to the port authority.

Under the agreement, the port authority has until Dec. 31 2014, to find another company to commit at least $50 million to develop the site of the former Baard project and pledge to create at least 100 jobs by 2016, unless a one-year extension is received. The port authority has until 2016 to fulfill is contractual obligations or repay the $148,000.

As part of the deal, the state will relieve the port authority of its obligation to repay the other grant.

Drake called the agreement “a reasonable resolution,” as did Stephanie Gostomoski, a public information officer for the ODSA, who said it achieves their goal of assisting businesses “while remaining accountable to taxpayer dollars.”

Now comes the task of doing something with the property. Baard Energy abandoned the project several years ago after being unable to obtain the necessary financing and in 2011 sold out in 2011 to Planck Trading, which completed acquisition of the 400 acres. As part of the deal, Planck committed to changing the feedstock for the fuel-conversion plant from coal to natural gas, but nothing has been heard from the company since.

Drake is hopeful they will be able to get a commitment for the property by 2015, noting he is always talking with companies about projects for the county.

“The worst-case scenario is if we don’t produce jobs by the end of 2016 we’ll be back on the hook for the $148,000.”