Locals react to new ethanol plant owners

The ethanol plant in South Bend could be back in business by the end of this year.

The plant shut down in November as the New Energy Corporation declared bankruptcy. Some wondered if the facility would ever reopen.

“You know, we’ve got an old plant and it’s going to take the right company to come in that’s willing to put some money into it to turn that plant around,” said South Bend Director of Public Works Eric Horvath.

A group of hometown investors tried to buy the plant, but was not successful. “In our estimation it needs about $15 million in plant upgrades in order to bring it to current operating standards,” said Rudolph C. Yakym, Jr., CEO of Vanguard Renewables.

Today, Yakym had nothing but good things to say about the out of town firm—Noble Americas—that did strike a deal. The official name of the new owner is Noble Americas South Bend Ethanol LLC, a company formed in May of this year.

“This is a company with a lot of substance and they have the financial where with-all to do what they need to do in order to make the plant work,” said Yakym.

But will the plant work for neighboring homeowners? “The sale doesn’t solve our problems, maybe. But I don’t think so,” said Judy Fox, an attorney representing nearby homeowners who suffered basement flooding after the ethanol plant closed-and stopped pumping massive amounts of water out of the ground.

Fox will keep pressuring the city to drill its own series of wells in the neighborhood that would give the city the power to manipulate the water table on its own.

“Without the city being involved, we’re again at the mercy of a company who is going to run their machinery based on their needs to make ethanol, not on whether or not it’s impacting the neighbors,” said Fox.

While Eric Horvath says the plant sale does not automatically kill the city’s plans to drill its own wells in the area, it may alter those plans. “What that means in terms of their overall use we don’t know yet and so we need to know that as part of the equation so we know how that will impact the homes and what types of pumps we need to put in, whether we need to put them in now, or in a couple of years.”

Horvath said it may even make sense to craft a legal agreement that would allow the city to step in and run the plant’s wells should the owners decide not to.

The ethanol plant was sold at a court ordered auction in February. It ended up in the hands of liquidation specialists who—instead of liquidating—have now managed to re-sell the plant to an operator.

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