Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County

$60 Mil Project Bark/Crystal Clear Goes South: Economic Development's Hunter Makes it Official

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Known by insiders for weeks, plans to bring a $60,000,000 biomass pellet plant to North Florida have collapsed. Originally code named Project Bark, the project was brought to Hamilton County in 2014 and then surreptitiously brought to Columbia County in the 1st quarter of 2015 by the same people that brought it to Hamilton, the North Florida Economic Development Partnership (NFEDP) and FSU's Florida Institute of Government's Jeff Hendry.

The NFEDP's Hendry at the NFBA

It was reported by the Suwannee Democrat in October of 2014 that the Institute of Government's Hendry claimed to have been working with Enerpellets USA for about 8-9 months. The Democrat reported, "Hendry said Enterprise Florida, which has two international offices overseas, visited the company's other plant and came back with strong recommendations that the company was viable and had strong capital. So much so, that the state is willing to consider over $7 million for infrastructure for the project."

On January 7, 2015, Columbia County's Economic Development Director, Glenn Hunter, announced at a Columbia County Economic Development  Advisory Board meeting that he received a call from the NFEDP "on a project they've been working on here in North Florida for about eight to ten months and apparently they showed interest in Columbia County." This project appeared to be the Hamilton County project, know as  Project Bark and renamed to Project Crystal Clear.

In February 2015, Enerpellets made a world-wide announcement that it planned to develop a pellet plant in Hamilton County.

On March 23, 2015, the County Economic Advisory Committee met and approved a recommendation to the Columbia County 5 (County Commission) for a package of incentives for Project Crystal Clear, which was the former Project Bark with a name change.

On March 25, the NFEDP held its quarterly meeting in Starke. Your reporter walked away from that meeting with the understanding that all the major players in the state knew about the sudden shift regarding the Enerpellets Project from Hamilton to Columbia County except Hamilton, which was purposely kept in the dark by everybody.

On March 31, 2015, the Columbia County 5 met in special session and approved a $7,000,000 incentive package for the Enerpellets Project.

"A decision almost immediately," Glenn Hunter

During the March 31 meeting Economic Development Director Hunter said, "The project will take a hard year of build out. The end-user will be making a decision almost immediately."

Thirty plus year veteran Commissioner Ronald Williams weighed in, [as spoken] " The project does we need it to do from state incentatives. It get the rail spur and the road construction into our RACEC site that we need to get that rail spur in. This will open up the whole motor park to that phase... The state will pay."

Mr. Hunter explained the state's interest, "The state is quite interested in the catalyst site and DEO [Department of Economic Opportunity] in conjunction with Enterprise Florida has actually been working on these incentives for economic development. They have been identified. They are very anxious for the site to be developed because of the history of this site. Those funds are there. We have to have an end-user, first... We've had several meetings prior to this with DOT, CSX Railroad, with Plum Creek and they've identified the sources. The anticipation is very high... Is that a guarantee? It's not a guarantee..."

Just before the vote, Commissioner Williams concluded the conversation to approve the incentive package, "DOT has the money to start the project. The Governor is involved, is that right Dale?"

County Manager Dale Williams answered, "That's correct."

For over a month everyone knew the project had gone south

It was clear during the June 22 meeting of The 5 that the Enerpellets Project had gone south.

It was clear during the recent budget workshop on June 25 that the County knew the project had gone south.

No one said a word.

Yesterday morning Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter finally announced what everyone had known for some time: Enerpellets (Project Bark/Crystal Clear) and the purported $60,000,000 in new capital investment and 70 new jobs had gone away.

Plum Creek's Inland Port or Intermodal will not have a state paid rail spur and remains empty without roads or utilities.


This is another deep-sixed project in which the Institute of Government's Jeff Hendry has been involved. The most notable are the North Florida Broad Band and Florida Rural Broad Authority projects that have squandered a combined $52,000,000 of Federal Stimulus Funds.

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