Commissioners consider creating special zone for bio-energy company

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – County commissioners are moving forward with establishing a special zone for the redevelopment of the former Ocean Spray factory, which a bio-energy company plans to buy.

New Planet Energy has a contract to purchase the old Ocean Spray property adjacent to the county’s main landfill off Oslo Road, but wants the county to designate the site as a “brownfield” so it can get state incentive funds.

County Community Development Director Bob Keating brought the request to the commissioners, seeking their direction.

With a 4-1 vote, commissioners approved the request to set a public hearing and establish the brownfield zone, which would include the bio-energy property and commercial/industrial property immediately to the north and to the west.

Commissioner Bob Solari voted against the measure, saying the proposed designated area is too large.

“I don’t see any reason for it,” the commissioner said, explaining he could support the Ocean Spray site but no other properties.

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.

Keating told commissioners that the Ocean Spray site does have some contamination around the wells, which would qualify the property as a brownfield site once the brownfield area is established.

Keating also said he had included the properties adjacent to Ocean Spray because the designation could help in attracting more businesses to the area.

Commissioner Gary Wheeler suggested the county establish brownfields countywide and encourage other counties to do the same so everyone would be on equal footing. He explained that individual property owners might not be aware of the brownfield program and how it could help.

Though the commissioner said he supports designating the proposed area a brownfield, he took issue with the state government and its program.

“They’re almost like an animal trainer,” Wheeler said of the government, explaining that it withholds funds until the applicant jumps through hoops and is then rewarded.

“We play all these games to try to help develop jobs and industry and commercial,” Wheeler continued, “And these are some of the things we’re doing and we do it by taxing the hell out of people and then giving them back a little bit of their money to go do something.”

Keating cautioned the commissioners on expanding the brownfield area to include the entire unincorporated portion of the county, explaining that it would take far more time to do than just the proposed area.

He added that New Planet Energy would get more state incentives if the brownfield were established before they close on the property, which is expected in the coming months. Keating said the county commissioners could hold the two required public hearings for the proposed brownfield area and then vote on it within New Planet’s timeframe.

Commissioners approved moving forward and requested the discussion of expanding the zone to all commercial/industrial sites within the county come back for further debate at a later commission meeting.

The property owners within the proposed area may opt-out of the brownfield area if they choose to do so. The county has posted information about the state’s brownfield program on the home page of its Web site,

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