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Published 3:44 am Friday, October 10, 2008

By Staff
a ‘clean’ project
It appears as if the only things a proposed ethanol-production plant near Aurora in southeastern Beaufort County produced are a prison sentence and the possibility of more prison sentences with people involved with the project.
Earlier this week, a federal grand jury charged two former Agri-Ethanol Products executives with conspiracy to commit extortion and bribery. After appearing in court on Tuesday to face charges contained in a 12-count indictment, James Perry Jr. and David Lee Brady were released from custody after posting bail.
According to federal prosecutors, Perry and Brady are accused of bribing a state environmental regulator to expedite permits for a $220 million plant that Agri-Ethanol Products wanted to build near Aurora. Brady also faces a charge of lying to a federal grand jury.
Earlier this year, Boyce Hudson, the state environmental regulator, pleaded guilty to money-laundering and extortion charges. In August, he was sentenced to 40 months in prison.
It’s a shame that those plans to build that ethanol plant were not worth the paper they were printed on. Beaufort County could use the jobs, especially in these days of an injured economy. It’s a shame Beaufort County residents, for a couple of years, were being told time and time again promises about the benefits such a plant would bring to the county, its residents and the local economy. It’s a shame those promises turned out to be empty, so far.
Back in the spring, Agri-Ethanol Products changed its name. As the Washington Daily News reported in May, the name on a permit to construct and operate an ethanol plant in Aurora was changed earlier this year, though the group controlling it remains the same, according to state documents.
The permit had originally been issued to Agri-Ethanol LLC. Perry, a former Wake Forest Mayor, was a co-founder of Agri-Ethanol. In May, he was listed as a contact for Southeast Ethanol.
Perhaps an ethanol plant remains a viable project, despite the problems associated with previous attempts to build such a plant near Aurora. Perhaps a name change on the permit for the plant will be enough of a change to make a difference when it comes to the project coming to fruition. Although the name on the permit changed, management remained the same, according to state documents.
To his credit, Tom Thompson, the county’s chief economic developer, continues to seek an entity that could bring an ethanol plant — or some other enterprise — to the site near Aurora. In June, Thompson said the hope of bringing an ethanol plant remains alive. A company that uses wood chips and other plant products to make ethanol and a power plant that also uses wood are looking at Aurora as a place to set up operations, he said then. Thompson would not elaborate on them.
If an ethanol plant is coming to Aurora, or anywhere else in Beaufort County for that matter, let’s hope that Southeast Ethanol or whatever entity plans to build such a plant is more open and honest than previous developers who had similar plans. Although Brady and Perry have not been convicted of the charges they face, there remains a dark cloud over the project with which they have been associated.
The original proposal to build an ethanol plant is tainted beyond redemption.
Beaufort County deserves a “clean” project, environmentally, legally and morally.