The Clewiston News

County looks to end tax agreement with BioNitrogen

After BioNitrogen Holdings Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2015, the fate of the company’s clean-tech fertilizer plant in Hendry County was still unknown.

Since the filing, Hendry County officials have worked towards terminating agreements the county had with the company and state, making the fate of the plant clearer and clearer: the “biggest economic development effort in Hendry County in nearly 50 years” was dead before it ever really began.

BioNitrogen purchased land on the Weekley Industrial Park on County Road 835 to build a plant that would turn natural, woody biomass into urea fertilizer.

The company held a ribbon-cutting ceremony in May 2014 to signify the beginning of a huge economic effort in the rural county. Hendry County commissioners, then economic development director Gregg Gillman and BioNitrogen executives shook hands on a deal that was purported to bring 250 construction jobs and at least 50 full-time jobs once the plant opened.

The company initially planned to begin construction in early 2015, but setbacks along the way caused delays, including moving the site within the Weekley Industrial Park to comply with land-use restrictions.

The November bankruptcy filing, however, seemed to seal the deal on the fertilizer plant.

The county has several agreements in place regarding the plant, which it is in the process of terminating.

One of those agreements was an $840,000-grant to construct a turning lane on County Road 835 leading into the Weekley Industrial Park. The agreement, between Hendry County and the Florida Department of Transportation, was extended until June 2018 with design work beginning no later than March 2016; both parties agreed to terminate the agreement.

Hendry County commissioners approved an ad valorem tax exemption for the company in 2013, but the agreement will expire in 2018 if BioNitrogen fails to create jobs. Commissioners have asked county attorney Mark Lapp to look into terminating the agreement before it expires in two years.

Hendry County’s Industrial Development Authority (IDA) also voted to let an agreement with BioNitrogen expire on Dec. 31, 2016. In 2013, BioNitrogen was awarded $300 million in tax exempt bonds from the state of Florida to be issued through the IDA for the Hendry County plant. Hendry County is not fiscally liable for the funds, according to the county; that risk falls on the private entities and lending institution.