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Posted on  

January 23, 2003

Kentucky Ethanol Plant Officially Breaks Ground

Kentucky New Era

In a ritual unabashedly and totally removed from reality, 17 men and one woman, most clad in conservative business suits, plunged new ceremonial shovels into an indoor bed of carefully groomed corn kernels.
Amid exclamations of glee and a low cloud of brown organic dust, they let the kernels rain back into the prepared plot on the floor of the fairgrounds Convention Center. The green artificial grass lining the 6–inch–deep bed of grain seemed oddly appropriate for the occasion.

"This is the first time I've ever broke corn this way," noted state Sen. Joey Pendleton, one of nine men who spoke before Tuesday afternoon's ceremonial act meant to signal the start of construction of the Commonwealth Agri-Energy ethanol plant off Pembroke Road.

The $32 million project, a subsidiary of Hopkinsville Elevator, will convert corn grown in the area to a high–grade motor fuel additive. It is expected to use more than 7 million bushels of corn and produce about 20 million gallons of fuel per year when it begins production in about a year.

"I can't wait to put that first tank of fuel in my car," said Mayor Rich Liebe. "I can only imagine what rocket fuel must be like."

As well as the mayor's car, the plant is expected to drive the agriculture economy of Christian County and the state, said Commission of Agriculture Billy Ray Smith, who explained that one of the current statewide goals is to produce "value-added" products from farm commodities.

"My goodness, what a crown jewel right here in Kentucky," Smith exclaimed. "I don't know of any product that exemplifies what we are trying to do in Kentucky agriculture better then this one. It will enhance the whole economy of the state, not just western Kentucky."

Gov. Paul Patton spoke last. He said many people can rightfully take credit for at least a part in making the ethanol plant a reality. However, he said first credit should go to the General Assembly, who earmarked tobacco settlement funds for agriculture development in the state.

"It is their decision, their historic decision, a decision made by no other state in the nation, that we're going to take this once–in–a–lifetime opportunity to try to maintain agriculture as a central part of our economy and our culture," Patton said.

Agriculture, he added, is the "economic engine that drives an awful lot of Kentucky." But farming and agriculture also represents the "cultural values that make Kentucky what it is," he said. "It's about people value to me, maintaining the culture of Kentucky."

Patton said the ultimate judgment of whether the investment in agriculture today has paid dividends will be in the future.

"I believe that when that judgment is made, we will decide as a people that it was the right decision, and that this particular investment was the right decision," he said.

Patton said the ethanol plant is the largest single investment funded by the settlement funds and he expects it to remain the largest for the foreseeable future. The Agricultural Development Board has invested $6.5 million in the plant, Patton said.

Patton called the ethanol plant a "part of a much broader, $60 million-a-year effort … to preserve and grow agriculture in Kentucky."

"And that is just a part of our entire program to build a better society in Kentucky," he said.

Also participating in the ceremony were Jimmy Doss, general manager of Hopkinsville Elevator, David Brame, president of Commonwealth Agri–Energy, Wayne Hunt, president of Agri–Chem, U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, John Mark Hack, director of the state Agriculture Development Board, Pete Johnson, co–chairman of the Delta Regional Authority, Christian County Judge–Executive Steve Tribble, state Reps. John Adams, Jim Bruce and Brent Yonts and T.C. Freeman, representing U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, R–Ky.

E.L. Gold can be reached by telephone at 887-3262 or by e-mail at elgold@kentuckynewera.com.



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