Phillip Stevenson talks about the WSP zinc plant at Friday’s Cass County Council meeting, noting the project won’t bring jobs that will bring college-educated natives back to the area. Staff photo by Tom Walters
Phillip Stevenson talks about the WSP zinc plant at Friday’s Cass County Council meeting, noting the project won’t bring jobs that will bring college-educated natives back to the area. Staff photo by Tom Walters
The progress of the proposed zinc reclamation plant through government channels was stopped Friday.

But it hasn’t ended.

The Cass County Council voted 6-1 to table the ordinances for two proposed bond issues for the plant and to return the matter to the Cass County Redevelopment Commission for renegotiations.

As a condition of that vote, the council members stipulated that representatives of both the proposed plant, Waelz Sustainable Products (WSP), and the organized opposition to the plant, Cass County Citizens Coalition, meet and negotiate.

Those negotiations have no limitation on subject matter, according to the motion put forth by Councilman Bruce Ide, at-large.

Councilman Brian Reed, District 4, was the sole vote against the measure.

The ordinances are only tabled, and the redevelopment commission meets before the next council meeting.

So the ordinances could return after that.

The council vote came after almost three hours of speakers, mostly experts for those against the plant, but also representatives from WSP who wanted to clarify or refute what they said was misinformation from those against it.

The council had moved the public comment from the end of the agenda to the meeting’s start, and between public comment and the council vote, some councilmen gave their opinions on why.

Tracy Williamson, at-large, said he had planned to second the first motion to delay the vote but also vented about behavior he’d seen and experienced, including what he called “bullying tactics.”

“I have been doing my research. I have been doing my job here,” Williamson said.

As an at-large councilman, he believes he represents everyone in Cass.

But because he didn’t jump on a bandwagon, he was accused of vile things, and everyone on the council is tired of being told what they did and didn’t do, he said.

He also has been surprised at the behavior of some people, including some elected officials being told that people are praying that they die.

He said that isn’t the way Cass County people behave, and he apologized to WSP.

“We are not a mean and vindictive people,” he said.

He also noted COVID-19 restrictions were a problem in the process and in government meetings, and that there are a lot of emotions and a lot of angry and afraid people.

“I do not believe that WSP is the liar everyone thinks they are,” he said.

He doesn’t believe they’ve put all their cards on the table, but he doesn’t believe those against the plant have, either, he added.

“I don’t understand why there’s not been more compromise and more people willing to come to the table,” he said.

He also noted that he’s asked a lot of questions but isn’t getting answers to some.

“Across the board, we all could’ve done better,” said Williamson.

Some of the questions he has are why the redevelopment commission sold 54 acres of land worth more than $1 million to WSP for $10, why the heavy industry is going into the Agribusiness Park when it isn’t agribusiness and why Cass County is for WSP, he said.

Ide said he’s spoken to WSP, and they’re willing to negotiate, but no one’s asked.

Having WSP and members of the Cass County Citizens Coalition negotiate and go to the redevelopment commission was a compromise.

Councilman David Redweik, District 1, asked for an outside negotiator because the process began with the commission.

“They were the ones who negotiated this in the first place, and they didn’t ask for anything,” he said.

One of WSP’s parent companies, Heritage Environmental Services of Indiana, which is partnering with Zinc Nacional of Mexico, issued a statement about the decision.

“WSP’s commitment to being a good, long-term partner for Cass County is unwavering,” said Darci Ackerman, SVP of Growth & New Ventures at Heritage. “We look forward to further engaging with members of the community and believe that we can find common ground that is in the best interest of all parties. WSP looks forward to being an important engine of economic growth, a good steward of the local environment and an integral member of the Cass County community for many years to come.”

During the public comments, the Citizens Coalition parted from their usual concerns about government transparency, deals made behind the scenes and COVID-19 restrictions limiting public input and participation.

Most of the people in the packed meeting chambers gave their three minutes of speaking time to a group of experts who spoke about health and economic concerns.

Dr. Indra Frank, a physician and environmental health and water policy director with the Hoosier Environmental Council, said that WSP’s figures on lead, mercury and other pollutants are inaccurate.

Lead figures from the area where its Alabama Waelz process kiln is located were taken from a government website, but they’re from 1978, 30 years before the plant went in, Frank said.

Workers at that plant tested for lead don’t exceed 60 micrograms per deciliter, but there are no exact numbers made public, she said.

The mercury at the Alabama plant has never been measured, she said.

There are also no WSP figures on dioxins.

Frank told the council about some technology that WSP could take to make the plant safer.

Morton Marcus, director emeritus of the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University, said that because there’s a higher population decline than the rest of the state and budget troubles, “Cass County is ideal for a predatory firm.”

County officials should be asking how much firms want to come here instead.

“This is an extraordinary proposal you have in front of you. It’s an extraordinary amount of money for the benefits [WSP provides],” Marcus said.

He estimated that the county will provide WSP with $230,000 per job they bring in with the incentives.

The bond issues are a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) bond for $23 million and a conduit revenue bond for up to $70 million.

WSP would repay the TIF bond by the increase in property taxes that will come from improvements on the land.

Over 20 years, 77% of the tax increase will pay off the bonds.

The conduit bond uses the county’s name, but WSP is responsible for repaying it — and the county won’t have to under any circumstances.

A conduit bond would allow for lower interest rates and no federal tax for WSP.

Dr. Monica Kowaleski read a statement from Logansport Municipal Utilities Superintendent Paul Hartman about his concerns.

“They could eliminate these concerns by employing the monitoring and testing that provide the data to prove they are continually in compliance with hazardous air pollutants and opacity,” the statement read.

Two people read statements from Bill Cuppy, executive director of the Logansport-Cass County Chamber of Commerce and Cass Logansport Economic Development Organization, where he states he’s against WSP and the amount of incentives given.

Maximo Gutierrez, whose house is across the site from the WSP site, where construction has begun, was one of the few citizens to speak.

He said that the county had rezoned that land from agribusiness to heavy industrial after he his family had moved into the house and began renovating it.

Speaking for WSP, Matt Conrad of Stimulus, said it’s not true that no bank would touch the project and that’s why the need for conduit bonds. He also said the project has tens of millions of dollars in equity invested.

Ackerman said that the emissions on the clean air permit with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management are high estimates and that WSP has voluntarily added monitors to the project.
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