There’s a lawsuit coming against Cass County officials over the sale of 54 acres of the Agribusiness Park for $10.

Royal Center Attorney John J. Schwarz filed a Preliminary Lis Pendens notice with the county clerk’s office on Thursday.

The Lis Pendens is to legally notify the county that the property will be involved in a lawsuit, Schwarz said.

It names all three county commissioners — James L. Sailors, Ryan Browning and Ralph Anderson — and all the members of the redevelopment commission — David Arnold, Grover Bishop, Brian Reed, Duane Sailors, James L. Sailors (he’s also the commissioner’s representative on the redevelopment commission) and Ryan Zeck.

It does not name Waelz Sustainable Products Holdings (WSP), which plans to build the reclamation plant.

Cass County Commissioners President Ralph Anderson declined to talk about this new legal action because he hadn’t heard about it.

“I certainly can’t comment on something that hasn’t come across my desk,” he said.

This is the second suit filed in the WSP matter, and it is apparently affecting the company’s ability to take possession of the land.

Schwarz said that WSP wanted to close on the land on Monday, but the underwriter wouldn’t accept it because of a suit from Bryon Stephens, filed by local attorney Jim Brugh on May 14.

Schwarz’s sources told him that with a Lis Pendens also filed concerning the land, it’s likely no underwriters will touch the transaction.

The Lis Pendens names no specific plaintiffs yet, listing “unknown plaintiffs” as those filing the suit.

Schwarz said that a few people have contacted him about filing a suit, but he declined to say how many would be involved in his representation.

“We’re looking at other claims,” he said. “I don’t know the full scope of the claims that’ll be brought [to the courts].”

He expects the suit itself to be filed in the coming week.

The plaintiffs are also looking for people close to the planned site of the proposed plant to join the suit.

“It’s important to have property owners and people in that vicinity that will see an impact,” he said.

These are people whose property values will be affected or will be affected by increased traffic or other problems. If someone will see changes because of the plant, “now’s the time for them to protect their interests,” Schwarz said.

He said that part of the suit will be about the lack of a public hearing by the redevelopment commission and the redevelopment commission not following proper procedures “to effectively give this land away for $10,” he said.

It will also contend that giving away the property exceeds the scope of the redevelopment commission’s duties and that the county didn’t do required preliminary work, including land appraisals.

The redevelopment commission passed a resolution on June 1 that approved selling the land to WSP for $10.

The redevelopment commission originally bought the land for $1.14 million in April 2015 for a potential development referred to as Project Outdoors, which Sailors has said didn’t come through.

With the resolution, WSP is legally able to take possession of the land for its zinc reclamation plant.

The plans for the plant first came to the public’s attention March 2 when the Cass County Commissioners signed an economic development agreement with WSP.

The land in question is in the southwest corner of the area surrounded by county roads 300 South and 275 South and by 375 West and 275 West. It is east of two properties WSP bought in March, which abut 375 West, according to county records.

The company paid $700,000 for the 36.119 acres on the north half, closing the deal March 2. The company paid $1.12 million for the southern section, which is 39.77 acres in the corner created by the intersection of 375 West and 300 south. WSP closed on that parcel March 10.

Given the amount WSP paid for the two smaller parcels of land, Schwarz wants to know why it isn’t paying $1 million to the county for the 54 acres instead of $10.

“This is the taxpayers’ money,” Schwarz said.

The purpose of the suit is so “taxpayer money isn’t given away. If this project is going to go through, we shouldn’t be paying the freight,” he said. “The property should be purchased for fair market value, not given away.”

As he interprets the state statute, it states that a public hearing was needed.

“I don’t think it’s full transparency,” Schwarz said. “As more people learn about it, [the opposition to it] gains momentum.”

Schwarz thinks that the county’s decisions for the plant have come fast, but he doubts the lawsuit will go as quickly.

“It could be some very prolonged litigation with this,” he said. He believes others will also come forward for different types of claims against WSP.

The first lawsuit — filed by Stephens and his attorney Jim Brugh on May 14 — was a complaint for declaratory judgement on the WSP plant.

It states that the economic development agreement that the Cass County Commissioners and Cass County Economic Development Commission signed March 2 should be voided because of the lack of public meetings and violations of the Indiana Open Door Law.
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