Sunman residents angry with board
WANDA ENGLISH BURNETT PHOTOS
Most of those attending the Sunman Town Board meeting Thursday, February 21 had one agenda. They wanted to know the reason the town board members gave Midwest Grain Products of Indiana (MGPI) a tax abatement. MGPI has purchased the 400,000 sq. ft. Deufol building on SR 101 in Sunman and have plans to house more than 300,000 barrels of whiskey there. It was noted that MGPI plans to establish the world’s largest whiskey barrelhouse there. They also own and operate the Lawrenceburg Distillery. Members of the board are Harvey Dobson, Don Foley and president, Mike Wolffe.
The town noted they had been talking with MGPI last year from August until about November. They said they wanted to get something in writing that MGPI would help with the cleanup of the fungus or at least have something. The fungus from the whiskey barrels is known to grow on the outside of the barrels, on houses, trees and properties. Foley noted that his decision to vote “no” at a former meeting on the tax abatement stemmed from those conversations. Mike Wolffe said, “They (MGPI) said they will be good neighbors.” But, Foley noted there was nothing in writing and no definitive measure set in place that MGPI has to abide by.
People wanting to attend the meeting stood outside for over 45 minutes before the doors were opened. The town board was seated along with one media person, yet the patrons were standing in the cold.
It was standing room only when 64 people packed the small conference room of the Sunman Town Hall. With over 100 people attending the meeting, others crowded into the foyer between the actual room where the meeting was being held and the outside.
Wolffe brought the meeting to order and told those in attendance that they couldn’t answer any questions for MGPI and although he said a representative for the company had been invited no one appeared at the meeting.
Carla Hacker was on the agenda to speak and asked who she could talk to because MGPI didn’t return her calls. She said she felt the town board was the only line of defense Sunman residents felt they had against this company and the town board members had let them down.
People living across from the property were outraged to think this company was coming to town and the town board welcomed them with open arms, or in this case, a tax abatement. Becky Stutz told the Osgood Journal that she is extremely concerned since she has family members with medical problems who she felt would be harmed by the fungus. She lives directly across from the Deufol building. Another neighbor, Becky Brashear, also had great concerns about the business that was taking place.
Wolffe and Dobson both said they didn’t know of any cases where people had been harmed from the fungus.
Residents are afraid of the fungus that is known to grow near barrelhouses such as the ones located at SR 350 in Pierceville in years past. A gentleman from Greendale was there to say it is no different now where he lives with the black fungus attaching to houses, cars, and whatever is near the Lawrenceburg site.
When residents asked if the 20-year tax abatement could be rescinded, attorney John Kellerman said it could not be rescinded. He also explained the abatement only applied to new dry fire suppress systems, sprinklers, etc.
Town officials said they didn’t know what the abatement amounted to financially. Dobson said the tax abatement applies only to upgrades and decreases 20% each year. They also said they didn’t have a choice in the company buying the property and moving to town.
While the town board was pummeled with questions from the audience, the response heard the most was “We cannot answer for them (MGPI)”.
“You have thrown us under the bus,” one patron noted. Others were concerned for children at a daycare not far from Deufol and the elementary school just down the road. “Who’s looking after the health of the children?”.
Commissioner Mark Horstman was in attendance, although he was standing in the foyer due to the seating issue, and said he had been getting a lot of calls about this situation. “It’s frustrating to be in a situation like this.” He clearly represented the people’s point of view and was trying to understand why the town board had made the decision they had.
Residents were worried about their property value and the fact that they wouldn’t even be able to sell and move. They also noted that they will try to keep the fungus, or black mold, as some referred to it, off the outsides of their homes, but said they didn’t feel it would be something that would be manageable. They were told by attorney Kellerman to take before and after pictures of their property, and if they do have damage, they could get an attorney and go from there. The people were not happy with that answer as they said most of them couldn’t afford to go that route.
Ruth Riehle noted, “Farmers will take a big hit if our product has mold in it.” Just like every other question or remark from the public, it seemed to fall on deaf ears.
The board listened for about 50 minutes, then after a board member’s wife was defending the board members, and saying the crowd almost had a mob-like mentality, Wolffe asked if he had a motion to adjourn the meeting. Dobson made the motion, President Wolffe seconded it and they voted to close the meeting.
Above the noise of the crowd, a woman was able to get the message out that Sunman Town Board positions are up for election this year and she was passing out information. She was moved quickly outdoors with the crowd and the doors were shut behind them. Afterwards, witnesses said some town board members stayed for refreshments and it was clear to see from photos taken by witnesses a case of Natural Lite beer.
But, before coming to Sunman, MGPI needs an air quality permit from IDEM, Indiana Department of Environmental Management. That public meeting is this Thursday, February 28 at 5:30 p.m. at the Milan High School cafetorium. Public comment can be made in writing or email to IDEM until March 14.