The Fiscal Court heard an update on a proposed wood pellet factory, a project the Harlan County Industrial Development Authority has been working on for some time, during a meeting on Tuesday.
Harlan County Judge-Executive called on IDA Chairman Harry Gibson to bring the magistrates up to date on the project.
“I invited Harry to speak to us today about the AML (abandoned mine land) grant they have submitted, and to give us an update on that grant and the project in general,” Mosley said. “A few investors here in town have been working on a pretty significant project, and the IDA is working on some infrastructure related matters to address some needs that project may have.”
Mosley said the project qualifies for AML funds due to the location of the project.
“On July 6, the IDA applied for a grant from the Department of Abandoned Mine Land,” Gibson said. “We asked they give us the money for infrastructure for a proposed plant.”
According to Gibson, the IDA applied for a $2.5 million grant to be used for infrastructure for the plant including roads and water storage facilities.
“On July 27, I received a letter from the AML that the project had been funded, and that we would be receiving this funding,” Gibson said.
Gibson said he expects to see action on the issue within the next 60 days.
“The site that we selected was a site the IDA already owned, the former United Glove Factory property,” Gibson said. “We realized there wasn’t enough land for this size factory…so we made a local agreement with the adjacent land owners, which made us eligible for the AML (grant) because it was post-mining land from Pocahontas Development. We have secured that lease on that property, and I would say that within the next 60 days, we will see this $2.5 million put into the local economy in the form of bids for this site preparation and getting ready for this plant.”
Gibson then explained some specifics about the proposed plant.
“This plant will be using a product that we have formerly determined as a waste in this area,” Gibson said. “That would be waste wood and sawdust that we have been mainly just trying to discard.”
Gibson suggested the project would clean up a lot of the waste wood in the area.
“We’re going to give a long-term lease on this property,” Gibson said. “We’re going to build the shell structures and maintain them…but the plant is a private public funded project…I see no reason why it’s not going forward.”
Mosley said State Representative Leslie Combs had supported legislation for public/private partnerships that helped make the project possible.
“We’ve tried several things in industry in this area, and some of them have not been real successful,” Gibson said. “This is different. We’re going to put private money with public money.”
Gibson said this project also includes a railroad terminal at Loyall.
“This product will be shipped out by rail, so that will open the opportunity that we will have an intermodal facility here…Congressman (Hal) Rogers says…this intermodal will be the first intermodal in the 5th District. So he is elated to have this project in Harlan.”
Mosley stated the project has the potential to create more than just the jobs at the plant.
“You’ve got the ability to create a lot of jobs, not only with the wood pellet mill but also some indirect jobs through trucking, rail and other means as well,” Mosley said.
Gibson said he expects more jobs to be created outside the plant than inside.
“The plant will have about 30 to 35 people inside the plant, and about 50 or 60 people outside the plant,” Gibson said. “The plant will turn out about 600 tons of product per day on a 7-day-a-week basis. That product will be loaded in shipping containers and be exported out of this country.”
Mosley said the private investors were reliable.
“The local investors are very credible people,” Mosley said. “There’s a very high international demand for this product…it makes sense.”
Gibson said the local resource needed to produce the product, wood, is not one that will run out.
“The fact is this is renewable,” Gibson said. “We talk about it being comparable with natural gas and coal, and both of those are depletable. In other words, once there gone, they’re forever gone. This wood product will probably be on a 20-year cycle.”
The court passed a motion for a resolution of support for the AML grant and the wood pellet project. The motion passed with no objection.
In other court activity:
• The Harlan County Sheriff’s 2015 tax settlements for telecommunications was accepted by the court subject to audit;
• The Harlan County Sheriff’s 2015 tax settlement for franchise was accepted by the court subject to audit.
Reach Joe P. Asher at 606-909-4132 or on Twitter @joe_hde