Grimsby divests itself of the biodigester

The biodigester from overhead with letters reading SOLD overtop
The tumultuous and costly Grimsby biodigester project appears to be nearing the end of its Grimsby Energy tenure with an announced sale done. File Photo

By Mike Williscraft

NewsNow

Grimsby Town Council reached the end of a very long, winding and expensive road Monday night with the approval of the sale of Grimsby Energy’s biodigester to Miller Waste Systems’ White Owl Ltd.

The Grimsby council chamber had a jovial atmosphere as the public portion on Monday’s meetings broke up. After just over an hour of closed session discussion, council opened an option session where a unanimously recorded vote – although Coun. Kevin Ritchie was absent for a second straight important biodigester decision – to approve the sale.

Going into the process, which was designed and managed by Deloitte and overseen by the GEI’s independent board of directors, members of council had little to no expectation on results of a sale.

“We are all glad it is over and we are ecstatic at the result. We found it very difficult to overcome the precious little volume of information available in the way of records and files regarding the biodigester project,” said Mayor Jeff Jordan after Monday’s meeting wrapped up.

“I want to, first and foremost, thank and note my appreciation for the Grimsby Energy board of directors who have worked tirelessly and are directly responsible for this great result. Without them, we would never have been in this favourable position.”

Generally, members of council hoped a sale price which offset outstanding debts of the biodigester could be garnered. The project racked up about $18.5 million in debt and operating losses – more than five times the original $3.5 million capital budget.

While terms of the agreement do not allow for full disclosure of the sale price, from a taxpayer perspective, all should be very happy, said Jordan.

“Grimsby Energy had debts of over $16 million of which the purchase price is sufficient to retire approximately half, sufficient to settle the
secured creditors and unsecured creditors, but not enough to cover all losses. I can confirm that the Town will receive all of the property taxes it is owed, which would otherwise have been paid by Grimsby taxpayers, over time, and the owner will pay property taxes to the Town.”

“From that standpoint, this transaction is definitely a win for Grimsby taxpayers.”

Further breaking down how the proceeds will be divided, Jordan noted bank loans and line of credit will be paid off as well as funds owed to the Town, accounts payable to suppliers, funds owed to Niagara Power and transaction costs. This includes the $300,000 in short-term operating funds council approved for the project so it could continue operation while the sale was pursued.

With the sale, essentially, Grimsby Energy and all it includes will be part of the sale. The biodigester will now come under Escarpment Renewables, a subsidiary of White Owl Ltd.

White Owl is a leader in waste management services throughout Canada and owner of Miller Waste Systems (MWS).

“As owners of Miller Waste Systems and Miller Environmental Corporation, our company has extensive experience and expertise in designing, developing and managing sophisticated waste diversion and processing faciities,” said Blair McArthur, president and CEO of MWS.

“We intend to improve and expand this anaerobic digestion facility, to turn it into an operation we can all be proud of.”

“As a family company, we are very committed to integrating into the communities where we operate by hiring locally, supporting community projects, working with local partners and suppliers and understanding local needs.”

Jordan noted that town officials were pleased the sale would ensure not only current jobs but lead to more in the future. This was corroborated by McArthur.

“Our expansion of the facility will create jobs and provide opportunity to develop business relationships in Grimsby and the Niagara Region.”
Jordan added that MWS will be an excellent addition to the Grimsby business community.

“We are very happy Miller Waste was brought to Grimsby through this process,” said Jordan.

“Miller Waste is a top-ranked employer, a platinum member of Deloitte’s Canada Best Managed Companies list, ranked on qualities we value in Grimsby. We welcome Escarpment Renewable and the White Owl family of companies to Grimsby.”

When questioned about the impact of the biodigester sale on the ongoing $18 million civil suit filed against former major Bob Bentley, James Detenbeck and Joe Panetta, Jordan said the amount of the claim would be reduced.

“The claim will be offset by the value of the sale price,” said Jordan. “We are fully committed to pursuing the claim.”

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