We love to see the mighty fall. It gives the ordinary and uninspiring among us a reason to feel better about ourselves.
Georgia political figure Dean Alford has taken a mighty big fall, and naturally a good many people around Augusta seem to be taking delight in his being in hot water.
In case you hadn’t heard, the former member of the Georgia General Assembly and former member of the University System of Georgia Board of Regents was arrested earlier this month on felony attempted theft and racketeering charges.
Though Alford’s not from the metro area, he has a little name recognition because his consulting and development firm, Allied Energy Services, was going through the paces to create a $68 million “waste-to-energy” complex at the city’s south Augusta landfill.
The facility would have converted up to 175,000 tons of trash a year into pinkie-sized pellets that could’ve been burned as biomass fuel. A subsequent expansion would have added a facility to turn the pellets into engineered building materials, such as flooring and paneling.
I speak about the plant in the past tense because I fear that, given Mr. Alford’s personal predicament, the project will never see the light of day. And that’s unfortunate, because I believe the facility would have been good for the community and the state.
Aside from creating 85 jobs – and just being neat as heck – the plant would have enabled the county to extend the life of its 1,200-acre landfill off Deans Bridge Road. The solid-waste facility receives about 390,000 tons of trash annually from counties throughout the region, so whatever Allied Energy reclaimed to make its wonder pellets would have stayed out of the ground.
And since Allied would have paid for the trash, the county would have essentially been able to double-dip on waste fees by charging Allied 5 cents per ton on top of the “tipping fees” it collects from haulers coming through the gates.
Some laughed at the idea because there is no other plant like it in the United States, and because it seemed too good to be true. Face it, a key component of the plant’s business model was buying garbage.
But the technology Allied Energy would have employed is sound. The machinery it would have used is manufactured by Soukos Robots, a Greek corporate conglomerate (yes, such a thing exists) whose products range from packaging machines to remote-controlled weapons systems. The trash-to-pellet machinery is currently used at sites in Greece and Bulgaria.
Under Allied’s agreement with the city, there was no downside to county taxpayers. If the plant had failed, the worst-case scenario would’ve been waste ending up in the landfill, which is where it would have gone anyway had the facility never been built.
So, like I said, I’m a little disappointed the project will probably not materialize because of Alford’s legal issues.
Everyone accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty, but as anybody who has ever been arrested can tell you, people reflexively presume you’re guilty. A cloud hangs over you whether or not you “did it,” which is why Alford resigned his seat on the Board of Regents shortly after his arrest.
The 66-year-old Atlanta businessman’s proposed facility in Augusta shouldn’t be considered without merit just because he’s accused of attempting to defraud the state of $2 million. I mean, you wouldn’t take The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” off your favorite-songs list because producer Phil Spector shot a woman in the face, would you? That would just be silly.
Theoretically, the plant could still be built. The chance is slim, but possible.
To the best of my knowledge, the company still has a valid lease on a small tract at the city landfill, where it would have built the 55,000-square-foot plant. It also has invested a lot of time, and probably quite a bit of money, to get the ball rolling on its state and federal environmental permits.
As for financing, Allied Energy was always going to have to borrow the money; unlike many “green” industries, it wasn’t receiving any state incentives or subsidies. The $68 million industrial revenue bond issue the Augusta Economic Development Authority approved last year was merely a tax-exempt vehicle for the company to sell its debt, which it planned to do through private placement instead of the open bond market.
The authority’s agreement, which Allied Energy never took advantage of, expired in May. The company could always come back and ask the authority to approve another bond issue, but that is probably unlikely if the company’s CEO ends up behind bars.
So time will tell.
If the man’s guilty, he’s going to get whatever is coming to him. If he’s not, then I really hope he gets moving on the waste-to-energy plant.
Call me strange, but I think it would be kind of cool to walk on flooring made from garbage.
Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or [email protected]