Questions remain about biodiesel plant

ABERDEEN – When Mayor Jim Ballard announced earlier this year that Mississippi Investment Petroleum Co. planned to build a biodiesel manufacturing facility at the Port of Aberdeen, the $12 million capital investment reportedly projected 32 new jobs coming with the operation.
Now, a month before MIPCO’s announced start date, some city aldermen and others wonder when, if ever, the Aberdeen plant will open.
That’s because a lot of details have to be worked out.
n No land has been purchased.
n No paperwork has begun with regulator Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
But the mayor still sounds optimistic, although he admits there’s a stall in plans for a new access road to the plant.
“The MIPCO board of directors recently came to Aberdeen to view the site and to my knowledge, everything is going forward as planned with the project,” Ballard said.
“Three Rivers Planning and Development are supposed to be helping us with some grant money for an access road before the facility can be built.”
Randy Kelley of Three Rivers looks at the situation a little differently.
He said the organization’s only involvement with the MIPCO project is working with the city on an access road, “if they are successful with the project.”
Former Nettleton Mayor Brandon Presley knows something about disappointment with a biodiesel project. His town’s facility went bust a few years ago and declared debt protection under Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Now, the Northern District’s public service commissioner, Presley said Ballard called him about his biodiesel experience and asked for advice.
“Proceed with caution,” were Presley’s words.
Ballard appears to be the lone local official working firsthand with MIPCO. He got board approval to negotiate the deal, including the sale of 6.8 acres to the company.
But according to calls made to the Monroe Chancery Court and the Monroe Tax Collector’s Office, no records indicate the land has been sold to MIPCO.
A visit to the MIPCO site at the port showed dirt cleared, some timber cut and a few empty, large fuel tanks on the property.
The situation has some Aberdeen officials concerned.
“We voted to let the mayor handle this, but we have been completely left in the dark as to what is going on,” Ward 2 Alderman Cloyd Garth said. “I have worked with three mayors and this is the first time we have ever not only not met with the people involved, but we have no information whatsoever on the company.”
He also expressed concern that city workers may have been used to clean up the property.
Ward 3 Alderman David Ewing echoed Garth’s sentiment.
“I have asked and asked about this – I asked about it at the last board meeting,” Ewing said. “I don’t think it is fair for us to be left on this.”
Another hitch in MIPCO’s launch could be with MDEQ.
According to the agency’s spokesman, Robbie Wilbur, no paperwork, permits or proceedings have begun with MIPCO.
MIPCO LLC was chartered Jan. 14, 2009, according to the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office. Tupelo attorney Rhett Wise was listed as the company’s registered agent.
Wise did not return calls to the Daily Journal regarding MIPCO. The company’s officers are Jon Lunsford of Georgia and Kenneth M. Cook of Madison. Lunsford also did not return calls made Friday regarding the status of the Aberdeen plant.
A recent news release from MIPCO stated its first reactor for the project is being refurbished in Okolona by William Tacker, who was indicted in March on 10 counts of defrauding the government of nearly $3 million through the now-defunct Nettleton facility, Biodiesel of Mississippi Inc.
“We certainly hope that everything is on the level and that the plant will have a successful operation in Aberdeen,” Ewing said. “But until I meet some of the people involved or see something on paper, I will not cast another positive vote on any activity going on at the Port of Aberdeen.”

Jeff Clark/Monroe Journal