Ethanol plant wins a reprieve

Published February 21, 2007

TAMPA - Over the objections of their elected colleagues, Tampa Port Authority commissioners gave developers more time Tuesday to close a deal to build an ethanol production plant at the port.

Mayor Pam Iorio and County Commissioner Rose Ferlita said the public needed more time to air concerns, including the proposed plant's huge water consumption and potential odor problems.

"If we move forward without more dialogue, it's sending a bad message to the community," warned Ferlita.

Ferlita and Iorio were on the losing side of a 4-2 vote to grant Port Sutton EnviroFuels two three-month lease extensions on a 22-acre site off U.S. 41.

The port board agreed to the original yearlong lease option in December 2005 without any discussion about worries raised in recent days by residents of Harbour Island.

Commissioner Joe Hartley argued it wasn't fair for the public agency to change direction after giving EnviroFuels the green light a year ago.

"I have a hard time with ... telling them to spend this kind of investment and then pulling the rug out from under them," said Hartley, former president of Tampa Bay Shipbuilding & Repair Co. He voted for the extension with three other members appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Residents of Harbour Island near downtown Tampa started making noise after recent news stories about the plant, which would be used to distill corn into ethanol. The plant would produce as much as 50-million gallons of ethanol a year to be mixed with gasoline shipped into the port.

A former port authority environmental official expressed concerns with fellow staffers in an October 2005 e-mail that smells could drift 3 miles to Harbour Island and Davis Islands. David Parsche also warned the plant's plans to use as much as 500,000 gallons of freshwater per day could pose a hurdle to getting the $100-million project approved.

EnviroFuels has all but one of its permits from regulators, said president Bradley Krohn. The last, a county construction permit, requires the company to obtain a commitment from Tampa to provide the water.

The company wants to switch to reclaimed water from the city or county, said Krohn. He called concerns about odors "a lot of myths and misinformation" that spread whenever a plant is proposed outside the Midwest, where the vast majority of U.S. ethanol is produced.

Port director Richard Wainio pledged to hold public hearings on Harbour Island and Davis Islands to answer questions. Any concerns could be addressed in a renegotiated lease, said port officials.

But Krohn said after the vote that EnviroFuels wasn't interested in any lease changes, which could unravel a financing deal with a New York energy company.

Iorio acknowledged the port authority has no authority to impose restrictions unilaterally. "That's the position we're in," she said.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com">href="mailto:huettel@sptimes.com" mce_href="mailto:huettel@sptimes.com">huettel@sptimes.com or (813)226-3384.