A swift round of conversation was held in an nearly hour long public discussion that followed the regular meeting of Meade County Fiscal Court Tuesday (11/12) evening.
Farmers from Meade and surrounding counties attended the Meade County Fiscal Court meeting to make their voice heard and to demand answers following news that Consolidated Grain and Barge will close the Meade County grain facility at the end on January 2020. This news began to swirl over the past several months as negotiations moved forward on the planning and construction phases of the newly announced Nucor Steel mill to locate in the Buttermilk Falls Industrial Park.
When the Nucor announcement was made in March, local and state leaders along with other associated parties believed that the grain facility currently at the Meade County Riverport would be relocated due to the footprint needed for the steel plant. As the necessary conversations continued to move forward plans involving the impact infrastructure, utilities, and adjacent businesses, it became apparent that Consolidated Grain and Barge Company was having other ideas instead of relocating their grain facility.
Local leaders have shown Consolidated Grain and Barge six alternate sites in Meade County and several other locations in neighboring counties that would be suitable for their relocation. So far the company has not indicated any form of commitment to any plans for the facility other than a notice to local farmers that the current facility will close on January 31, 2020. The current facility was a result in a long run of delays that came from the original Riverport Authority members that led to a lengthy legal mediation between Fiscal Court, Consolidated Grain and Barge and the Riverport Authority which was resolved in 2013 and led to the construction of the facility in 2014.
The recent turn of events has farmers demanding answers of local elected officials from Brandenburg to Frankfort. The closure of the Meade County terminal means an automatic cost increase to transport local corn and soybeans to market, which reduces profit margins for farmers, who now depend on the convenience of the terminal. Farmers would have to travel to Jeffersonville, Indiana or Owensboro to get their crops delivered to market. After several rounds with Fiscal Court and the Industrial Authority, farmers have developed a co-op and has hired a lawyer to defend their position in the issue.
Several issues fuel the outrage from the local farming community. During Tuesday (11/12) evening Fiscal Court meeting, Morgan Ward, the attorney representing the farmers, questioned local leaders about access to the public since the property was leased by county officials to Consolidated Grain and Barge. He stated the access to the facility should be maintained until the current issues are resolved. Those comments come on the heals of the recent Riverport Authority meeting in October, where a document was approved to terminate the lease agreement between the Riverport Authority, Meade County Industrial Authority, Meade County Fiscal Court and Consolidated Grain and Barge. That document was a major hurdle to propel progress for the Nucor project. As result of the action, a $2 million Kentucky Agriculture Development loan will have to be reimbursed to the state, which will be paid by Nucor as detailed in the original negotiations.
Erran Persley, Commissioner of the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, was in attendance Tuesday (11/12) evening and discussed the current situation. He said all parties involved was caught off guard and did not intentionally set up these circumstances. He attempted to explain that the county and state officials have no control on negotiations between the two private companies. In this case one private company is purchasing the land that the other private company leased from a public entity.
During the past six weeks, several farmers have voiced concerns over how the process of information was provided to them, environmental impacts and how they could get payments for the extra fuel costs triggered by the current situation. All of which have been spun and twisted through political wrangling of the community gossip mill.
Several farmers asked Fiscal Court if they are seeking out other grain terminal companies. Judge Executive Gerry Lynn said that the county cannot proceed with any replacement options until all of the paperwork on the lease termination agreement are final. Once that happens, local leaders would then have the ability to seek other proposals from other grain companies to fill the void if Consolidated Grain and Barge decides not relocate in the county.
Persley asked the farmers in attendance to nominate representatives to join the discussions and help give their input to develop a resolve for the local farming community. After that request, seven names were nominated to represent their interests along with their legal counsel. Among them were at least three previous Riverport Authority members. More discussions are planned in the coming weeks as the process moves forward.
You can watch the full discussion in our “On Demand” section.