Ethanol plant could bring 63 jobs

CHESTER -- An ethanol-manufacturing company is considering Chester County for a plant that could bring as many as 63 jobs, the county's economic development director said.

The company, which has not been named, is eyeing a 330-acre site on Beltline Road, said economic development director Karlisa Parker.

The business is asking for a rezoning because land use rules require a heavier industrial designation for a facility that manufactures alternative fuels, Parker said.

The plant would produce ethanol, a fuel that burns cleaner than regular gasoline and can be made from reusable products such as corn.

With this site, a byproduct would be what's called dried distillers grains, a high-protein livestock feed.

The company has said it would purchase all the local corn it could, Parker said.

If the company chooses Chester, it would initially bring 45 jobs paying around $42,000 a year, Parker said. All but three of those jobs would be filled locally.

The company might also eventually build a liquid carbon dioxide or "dry ice" plant on the site that would employ 15 to 18 people and pay them about $22,000 per year. Dry ice has a variety of uses, including shipping.

The actual plant only would use 100 acres of the property. Parker said the company liked the site because it is buffered by trees.

The plant would use trucks and trains to move its products. That means about two trains would pass through the site every week, and three trucks would come through each hour, Parker said. The traffic shouldn't cause a problem, though, because other companies have closed or scaled back operations in recent years.

The company's name remains a mystery to all but a few county officials because of the competitive nature of the project, Parker said. The land use request will go before the planning commission in a week.

Although landowners have not been given the business' name, consultants for the company presented plans to some area landowners last week. Seventeen were invited, but only seven showed, Parker said.

The meeting offered area residents a chance to learn about the project.

"They asked wonderful questions," she said. "It's working great."

The project was brought to the county by the state Department of Commerce. Negotiations have taken place since June.

If the rezoning is approved, a decision could come in the next two months, she said.

Some neighbors still have questions about the project. But others say the county, which is grappling with double-digit unemployment, just needs industry.

"I didn't see any problem with it coming in there," said Melvin Jackson, who lives nearly a mile from the site and attended last week's meeting. "Chester needs jobs."

In December, some residents protested the railroad company CSX building a rail and truck terminal in the county. The company was eyeing Chester, but later passed on the county. Residents feared the site would create traffic and pollution hazards.

With the ethanol plant, Jackson said he thought most landowners' questions were answered at the meeting.

"I don't foresee any protests to that plant coming," he said.