Plant closing a mixed blessing for Carthage

Monday, April 20, 2009

CARTHAGE, Mo. -- A decision by the owner of a renewable fuel plant to file for bankruptcy last month has brought mixed emotions to a community that has lost not only an odor that tormented it for years, but also about 50 jobs.

Renewable Environmental Solutions owner Brian Appel says he's hoping to reopen the plant that had converted turkey guts, bones and feathers into diesel fuel, but next time he'll use corn oil and grease to produce the fuel.

"I'm getting that plant going again," Appel said. "I'm getting those jobs back."

The turkey waste produced a stomach-churning smell that sometimes blanketed the town and prompted lawsuits from residents and fines from the state attorney general's office.

Appel spent millions of dollars trying to control the smell, but he couldn't control plummeting energy prices that paid him $1.19 a gallon for oil that cost more than $11 a gallon to produce.

"This is a sad and a happy condition," said Ray Mathis, owner of a hardware store with his wife. "It's sad because of the loss of jobs. It is happy if the odors that were emanating from there are no longer part of this community."

RES came to town as a demonstration plant in 2001, when the $15 million project gained much fanfare for Appel's vision of beginning production the following spring and that eventually technology would let it produce 12 billion gallons of oil a year.

But production didn't begin until 2004, and by May 2005 the plant was processing 270 tons of turkey waste into 300 barrels of oil a day.

Soon hundreds of complaints about odors put the plant in the national spotlight, but not in a good way.

"They promised us no odors when they came in," said Carthage Mayor Jim Woestman. "The odors are so bad that it would buckle your knees."

Then-Attorney General Jay Nixon cited the plant at least seven times for odors, and in December 2005 then-Gov. Matt Blunt ordered the plant to shut down until Appel could figure out how to control the smell.

The next year, Nixon fined the plant $125,000.

Though state investigators said the smell was coming from other places, some residents remained certain the odors were still coming from RES and filed lawsuits. Others agreed with Appel that the smells had dissipated.

"The plant got unjustly accused about a lot of it," said former mayor Kenneth Johnson.

Appel's bankruptcy petition shows that by Sept. 30, 2008, his related companies had a debt of $117.8 million, some of which was caused by the collapse of the renewable fuels industry.

"I wish they could solve the problem," Woestman said, "because it would have been great for the world, but they did not. We didn't want the city of Carthage to be sacrificed for what they were trying to do."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: