BP site finally sees activity [Highlands Today, Sebring, Fla.]By Gary Pinnell, Highlands Today, Sebring, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Oct. 03--LAKE PLACID -- After four years of talk, British Petroleum still hasn't built that ethanol production facility on State Road 70, at the southeastern edge of Highlands County.
However, activity is increasing:
--Plans were filed and construction has begun on BP's Lake Placid office building;
--Tourism Director John Scherlacher received an email on Oct. 18 from Devina J. Stewart, the Jacobs Engineering field office manager at the BP Biofuels Project in Houston;
--A turn lane into the proposed Brighton plant is under construction.
On Aug. 10, Michael Chapman bought a permit to construct 6,000 square feet of office space at Mid Town Center Plaza, 147 Tower St., Lake Placid.
The $202,000 remodeling plan includes four offices, cubicles for 28 workers, a business center, a simulator room and two training areas.
"The (Brighton) site is going to require food delivery service, on a daily basis," Stewart wrote to Scherlacher. "We will erect a large tent 50' x 170', large enough to feed 600 people at one time. Do you know of any restaurants or catering companies capable of providing service to the site?"
Scherlacher referred the catering question to the chambers of commerce in Avon Park, Sebring and Lake Placid and sent tourism brochures Stewart requested for 30 people.
"I need to develop a relationship with the local realtors and renting agencies," Stewart wrote from Houston. "We are going to overwhelm the area with people, and I am afraid that housing may become an issue."
Scherlacher referred the housing question to Arianna Jordan Burke at Heartland Association of Realtors.
"It depends on where they want to be, but I am sure we can accommodate them, even if I have to rent out my bedroom," said Burke, HAR executive director.
"What a boon to our area," Burke said. "With all the homes, apartments, hotels and motels we've got? We're going to work with her. We just need to sit with her and get some information."
Stewart hasn't said when she'll come here but, she emailed Scherlacher: "I am an avid fisherman, so I plan to park myself right on Okeechobee! That was the deciding factor in me accepting this project."
"Lake Okeechobee is a great lake," the tourism director replied, but, "My recommendation is Lake Istokpoga. It is considered Florida's best bass-fishing lake." He also forwarded guides to area lakes.
In June 2011, Highlands County commissioners voted for a third time to delay construction on a turn lane into the Vercipia plant at State Road 70, west of the Okeechobee County line.
However, the $1.64 million construction project has finally begun, said Highlands County Engineer Ramon Gavarrete. In the next five years, the Florida Department of Transportation plans to spend another $20 million to resurface S.R. 70 in front of the future biofuels plant.
Rohan Hutchings, Biofuels communications adviser for BP Biofuels North America, said the project is no longer called Vercipia. That name was shed after July 2010, when BP bought out its 50/50 biofuels partner, Verenium Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., and San Diego.
Currently, Lykes Brothers, in partnership with BP Biofuels, has planted nearly 3,500 acres of energy grass for what will become a 20,000-acre farm that will feed a 36-million gallon facility.
What's now called Highlands County BP Biofuels does not have a firm groundbreaking date, Hutchings said last week. "Planning and design is still continuing."
"What you have heard is part of our normal due diligence," Hutchings said. BP needs to know that the infrastructure is in place -- where construction workers will live, and what they'll eat.
However, Gavarrete's department is reviewing the development that will conclude in three to six months. The timing depends on how fast the applicant can supply the answers, Gavarrete said.
"When are they going to actually start construction on the actual plant? That I don't know yet," the engineer said. "We've been told by the people we are talking to that it will be January of next year, but they don't have it set in stone."
"We've been told it wouldn't be operational for 18 months," Gavarrete said. "So we're still looking at 2014."
Gavarrete is also getting phone calls from BP managers about construction logistics. The equipment -- some built overseas -- that will become the ethanol distilling facility may be barged from the Atlantic Coast through South Florida Water Management District's C-41 canal, the engineer said. When the equipment is five to 10 miles away, it will be trucked to the plant.
Two ethanol projects are planned in Highlands County. United States Envirofuels, a Tampa alternative fuel corporation, was given a $7 million grant in January 2008 to build an ethanol plant south of Lake Placid, near U.S. 27 and S.R. 70.
The $47 million Lake Placid plant would use sweet sorghum, which is not a food crop. Bradley Krohn, president, said the project is still scheduled for 2013.
Highlands County commissioners reviewed plans in October 2008 for the Brighton plant, submitted by Lykes Brothers and Verenium.
At that time, both projects were slated for construction in 2009.
(c)2012 the Highlands Today (Sebring, Fla.)
Visit the Highlands Today (Sebring, Fla.) at www.highlandstoday.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services