Darren Doyle, story and photo
The Atmos Energy Gas Plant in Rocky Hill has shut down and is being dismantled after negative reaction from the Rocky Hill community discouraged selling of the plant, but that doesn't mean the interest in the area's natural gas wells has blown away. Dr. Lowell Hellervik, Chairman and CEO of Hellervik Oil Technologies, along with company team members Gary Minard and Jim Brown, appeared before fiscal court yesterday to discuss possibilities of gaining public- private partnership bonds (P3) from Edmonson County.
Dr. Hellervik spoke briefly about his company's interest in the area, but allowed Minard, an industrial engineer and manager with the company to better describe the intentions of Hellervik.
Minard said the company was aware of the backlash that occurred in Rocky Hill when they attempted to purchase the existing plant, but that they felt like there were now better options that would have many positive results for Edmonson County.
"We thought, would it be feasible to build a new gas plant, if it could be put in a place where it doesn't bother anybody?" Minard said. "Our personal favorite, although the community would have to approve, we like a 9 acre parcel in the old industrial park, which is up against the railroad tracks and the south side of an industrial building. It's not really visible from the road."
He went on to say that anything regarding a new plant that makes noise would be enclosed in what he called an "acoustical covering" and that the entire facility would look like a barn from the outside.
"There would be in no way where the county would be responsible for any of the bond funds," he said. "We have to structure it so there's no doubt that the proceeds from outside any of the county's funds are going to be used to retire the bonds."
Minard said that one of the best ways to make the project work financially is to first secure more bond funds to run more pipelines to customers, but for the county to set up a special taxing district where Hellervik would be the only ones required to pay the tax, no county resident, nor anyone else.
So how would the bonds work, and what role would the county government play in this project? There are many different possibilities in how P3 bonding could work as well as numerous outcomes in which the language could be established. However, in the event that fiscal court granted P3 bonding to Hellervik, a possible scenario would be that Hellervik is granted rights to natural gas services by the county, Hellervik pays the county a tax in exchange for that service, while Hellervik receives income generated from their plant and services.
Minard also said that a new facility, approved by the county, would also create county jobs while providing the county with several hundred thousand dollars per year of tax revenue.
Judge Cannon said he wanted to make his thoughts clear on the issue. "I did say (in earlier discussions) that I thought this could be a win-win-win situation for Edmonson County IF, we can locate it in a strategic place where it doesn't affect residential neighborhoods like it did in Rocky Hill. To us, our job is to protect our people, so that would be the number one thing that we'd be concerned with."
Cannon went on to note that residents who have natural gas on their property aren't currently benefiting from it because there is no one to buy it. He was also aware of job possibilities, ranging anywhere from 20 to 50 new jobs to the county. He added that natural gas options would also be available to new industry, which could be more economical for other small factories looking to come to Edmonson County, which could create even more jobs and tax revenue.
One remaining fact is that without industrial zoning, there is still nothing that the county can do to prevent a business from being built anywhere in the county. At this point, it appears as though Hellervik is trying to incorporate the community's best interest into their current plans, however, the discussion is brand new and there are still miles to go before final decisions will be made.