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Forfeiture not expected to affect land purchase

June 7, 2009

LISBON - Nearly 30 percent of the land being sought for the Baard Energy project is the subject of a forfeiture action by the Columbiana County Prosecutor's Office, which has charged the owner with running a methamphetamine lab at the site.

Peter S. Barta II, 36, of Sixteen School Road, Yellow Creek Township, was indicted earlier in January for allegedly running a methamphetamine lab on his property. A new indictment was issued last week by the grand jury adding more drug and forfeiture charges.

Accompanying the indictment is a specification seeking forfeiture of Barta's 146 acres since the land was used in committing the alleged drug offense. If Barta is convicted, the land becomes county property and would be sold, the usual procedure. The proceeds would be divided between the prosecutor's office and the law enforcement agency involved in the case, which in this instance is the county Drug Task Force.

The acreage is part of the 522 acres the county Port Authority is seeking to acquire for the Baard Energy project. The company intends to build a $6 billion coal-to-liquid fuel plant on the property, which is just across state Route 7 from the port authority's riverfront industrial park in Wellsville.

The port authority has an option to purchase the 146 acres from Barta and the other 16 property owners for an undisclosed amount, which will become public once the options are exercised. The options expire at the end of the year.

"We're aware of that," said Port Authority Chief Executive Officer Tracy Drake said, when contacted about the forfeiture. "I don't know that it will hold us up, one way or the other," because the port has a contract to purchase the land.

Drake said Baard is still in the process of putting together its funding package for the project, and when that is done they will exercise the options and purchase the land. The plan is to initially lease the land to Baard, which is expected to eventually purchase the land from the port authority as part of the deal.

The port authority has secured $5 million in funding through the state to pay for the option agreements and eventual site acquisition. Drake said they will draw down on that money once Baard's financing package is in place.

He said they are prepared to exercise the purchase agreements as quickly as possible, regardless of the status of Barta's legal problems. But what if Barta is convicted and his property forfeited to the county before the port authority is prepared to act? Drake doesn't believe the forfeiture would interfere with the pre-existing contract they have with Barta.

Neither does Prosecutor Robert Herron. "I can't see where there would be any problems if it came to that," he said.

Herron was unaware the Barta property was part of the Baard project, nor would it have made any difference about whether to go with a forfeiture specification.

"It won't have any bearing on how we prosecute the case," he said.



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