Commissioners nix special district for bio-company, neighbors

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – County Commissioners sided with concerned property owners in the area of Oslo Road near the interstate today when they unanimously voted against establishing a special zone for a would-be property owner.

With the unanimous vote not to proceed with the designation application, a shout of “Yahoo!” rung through the commission chambers, punctuating applause from some in the audience. INEOS New Planet Bio Energy had asked the county to designate the former Ocean Spray plant a brownfield, which would have allowed the company to apply for state dollars.

Brownfield areas are designated zones that contain properties that have actual or perceived pollution. The designation allows property owners to request financial assistance in cleaning up the pollution and promote its redevelopment.

David King, the company’s president, said after the decision that he plans to move forward with purchasing the site.

“It’s disappointing,” he said. “I think it’s a missed opportunity.”

King said the company will have to work that much harder to make the financials work for the endeavor. INEOS New Planet has plans to convert the old plant into an ethanol producing refinery to be used as fuel.

“We have to kind of reassess,” King said, now that they know they will not be receiving the state aid they had hoped for.

Residents and business owners surrounding the site expressed opposition to the designation of “brownfield,” which leaves some with the impression that there is something wrong with the site, that there’s pollution.

One speaker reminded the commissioners that the intent of the state statute the establishes brownfields is to rehabilitate and clean up pollution to then spark redevelopment.

He noted that there is no evidence that shows there is pollution on the Ocean Spray property and to receive state funds for something not absolutely needed is wrong.

“Some people call it an economic tool,” he said. “I call it fraud.”

George Houston, a representative from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, told commissioners that he has never seen such a reaction from the community regarding the creation of brownfields.

Commissioner Gary Wheeler said prior to the vote that on its surface, creating a brownfield designated area seemed like it could be a good thing. However, after listening to the public’s input, he could not support it.

He added that if he were to approve INEOS New Planet’s application for the designation, he would no longer be able to complain about corruption government because “I’d be participating.”

He said that he hopes that the bio fuel company will be successful, but not with the brownfield status.

Rather than allowing the application proceed to the second public hearing, commissioners voted 5-0 to kill the application.

INEOS New Planet could reapply for the status after purchasing the site, if the company chooses to do so. However, King had explained that the firm could receive more financial incentives from the government if they purchased an existing brownfield property.

Commission Chair Peter O’Bryan noted that in the last 3 ½ years, the county has come a long way in being more business friendly. He also said that he understood the economic benefits that could have come from establishing the brownfield zone.

“This may be one step too far” at this time, he said.

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