LIMA — After a storied history of false starts and big promises, the Lima Energy Project may finally happen.
A new company has taken over the project, which involves a plan for a natural gas distribution company, and those behind it say this time will be different than the past 15 years.
“We’re not going to set expectations we won’t meet, this won’t be a repeat of previous cycles,” said Arif Bhalwani, portfolio manager at Third Eye Capital, the new owner of the project. “Many of the impediments that were associated with the project before no longer exist, which provides a much better runway for the project to get built.”
The company originally behind the project, USA Synthetic Fuel Corp., filed for bankruptcy in March and two of its creditors were found in favor.
The two creditors, both represented by Canadian company Third Eye Capital, which itself invested $35 million in the project in 2012, have started a new company.
Those behind the successor company, American Future Fuels Corp., intend to go on with the project, Bhalwani said.
“We remain very enthusiastic about the project and have the means and conviction to see that project ultimately get built,” he said.
Some of the changes are the absence of the people who have been in charge of the project over the last 15 years: former head of Synthetic Fuel, executive chairman Harry H. Graves and Steven Vick, president and CEO of Synthetic Fuel.
Bhalwani said he couldn’t divulge the names of the leaders of American Future Fuels but said Graves and Vick are “no longer with the company.”
“The successor company has no involvement with those individuals,” he said. “Whether they’ll have involvement in the future, I can’t confirm that.”
Bhalwani could not share a schedule or timeline for the project Friday.
“This information will all come out in due course, but it’s premature,” Bhalwani said. “When we make an announcement, it will be substantive, and we’ll provide real and credible information about our plans for the project, but we’re not ready for that right now.”
The project will remain located in Lima, on a 63-acre lot on Metcalf Street, and is the same project promised to Lima for more than 15 years.
It’s important to make sure “it provides the economic spillover to the city and the state we think it should,” Bhalwani said.
In September 2014, when USA Synthetic Fuel was being investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Lima Mayor David Berger said the planned gasification plant could produce up to 1,000 construction jobs and 125 permanent jobs, according to a previous story in The Lima News.
Berger has spoken with the new project owner, whom he first met with six weeks ago. He said they “talk frequently.”
American Future Fuels is “stepping through the process of restarting,” Berger said. “They have to transfer a variety of permits over to the new company owners and that all will begin the process of restarting it under the new company ownership.”
Part of that process will take place Aug. 27 at an Ohio Power Siting Board meeting in Columbus.
Lima Energy Co. submitted an application in June to the board to get a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need to Construct a Power Plant in Allen County, and also applied to transfer the certificate to American Future Fuels Corp., according to the board’s agenda.
As for the city, Berger said it’s waiting on American Future Fuels.
“We stay in touch to be as prepared as possible to assist,” he said.
Berger, a long-time supporter of the project, said he still thinks the project is important.
“It’s a significant project that I believe holds lots of potential for industrial development and job creation in our community,” Berger said.
The city sold the land to Synthetic Fuel in October 2012, and a groundbreaking took place in 2012, though little has happened on the land since.
Calls to Synthetic Fuel Friday were met with busy signals and a recording that said “could not be completed as dialed.”
“The good thing is that it’s a nice, clean entity without any encumbrances … that might otherwise stall progress,” Bhalwani said. “(We) certainly remain very enthusiastic and excited about the prospects.”
Reach Danae King at 567-242-0511 or on Twitter @DanaeKing.