Ethanol plant in limbo with financing mess
Neighbors of a proposed ethanol plant are hoping a foreclosure suit filed this month will signal a death knell for the project.
Schaumburg-based Wight Partners announced plans for the ethanol plant in December 2005. Procedural and legal woes stymied the project, but the Winnebago County Board ultimately approved the company’s request for zoning changes.
Representatives of Wight Partners didn’t return phone calls Tuesday for comment. Gary Osborn, who lives near the proposed site, said it wasn’t a surprise to find out the company was having difficulties.
“I was pretty confident that Wight wouldn’t be able to pull together the financing,” he said. “I wasn’t aware they were in immediate, dire financing trouble.”
The foreclosure petition was filed in circuit court April 7 by ECI Finance. According to the documents, Wight borrowed $5 million from ECI to purchase 60 acres at 1951 S. Meridian Road and more than 50 adjoining acres on South Weldon Road and Kelley Road.
Wight paid $2.3 million for all the land, and the one-year loan was due March 12, 2008.
Winnebago County Board member Mary Ann Aiello, R-9, has long opposed the project. She said Wight’s financial troubles weren’t a surprise.
“I was very skeptical from the beginning,” she said. “It didn’t seem like they had everything in order at that time.”
Aiello said the county should have done more investigation of Wight’s business practices upfront.
“The problem is that they hear of a program or a company coming in and saying ‘We can do this, we can do that,’ but they don’t check on anything,” she said. “There were enough red flags ... to show it wasn’t going to work. Rather than look into it, everyone jumped on the bandwagon.”
Sue Mroz, Winnebago County’s regional director of planning and development, declined to comment Tuesday.
Neighbors took the company to court where they fought the location and the County Board approval of the ethanol plant site. Ultimately, the county’s zoning decisions were upheld, and neighbors settled with Wight Partners for an undisclosed sum.
Neighbors subsequently sued again, however, alleging Wight Partners hasn’t paid up.
Wight is also the target of other lawsuits. One, filed in federal court, alleges that a Nevada company spent $500,000 to invest in a restaurant chain with the company in December 2004, only to be told the plan “didn’t work out.” Wight then failed to return the investment, according to the suit.
Sean F. Driscoll can be reached at 815-987-1410 or email@example.com.