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Commissioners vote on high tech investment

The Lee County Commissioners.
The Lee County Commissioners.
Carljohn Veraja

As County Commissioners gathered for their regular meeting today, one of the issues on the table was whether to grant $10 million to Algenol to create its headquarters and an algae farm in Lee County.
An Audubon speaker supported the motion to "incentivize" Algenol. 120 jobs were promised to be created and an industry that would be the vanity of Fort Myers would be added to the industries of Southwest Florida.
Steve Brown, with the Madden Research Loop, also spoke in favor in "incentivizing" Algenol.
They were followed by several other speakers who all spoke in favor of Algenol which would also reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy, produce potable water supplies as well as supersede corn's current place as the usual ingredient in ethanol which produces competition with food supply and is more expensive than the Algenol process.
Only three speakers were against the investment in Algenol. One, a businessman, because it was too much money for a single project whereas the speaker felt it could be "spread out" to more projects. The other, Jerry Moore, a former candidate for County Commissioner, felt that Algenol was a waste of taxpayer's money, that other companies had the same idea and that Algenol should be spending its own money and not the taxpayer's money.
Another supporter was Joe Shepard, vice president for administrative services and finance from FGCU. He thinks using algae-produced "ethanol" in his car would be ideal. He said the real questions is: "What do you want Lee County to be in the next 30 years? What kind of industry do you want it to support?...we support're pursuing what to do in terms of research and development in this area...creating sustainable energy opportunities and research I think are viable solutions for our county."
Ron Inge from the Horizon Council spoke about how the monies from the incentive program should be applied to the Algenol project if certain benchmarks are met such as employment and catalyst opportunities but that ultimately the Horizon Council only advises and does not administer funding.
Another supporter said Algenol would "turn pond scum to gold."
Commissioner Judah asked for unanimity in voting before making the motion to invest in Algenol.
Commissioner Mann made a statement recalling times in 70's when there were fuel shortages and said that the times were even worse now as far as our dependence on foreign sources of energy. Mann still said that he didn't think it was perfectly appropriate to use the $25 million in ad valorem tax dollars for use in job creation and still wasn't sure investing $10 million of that in Algenol was right. However, he said he was impressed with everything he had heard but he didn't think this project would create the number of jobs he'd like to see though it met many "laudable goals."
Mann declined to support the motion.
Commissioner Bigelow said at first he thought it was too much money for too few jobs. When he considered the link up between Algenol and the university it still wasn't convincing enough. Also, he thought the lack of the county manager's recommendation was troubling as well as revenue shortfalls that are being faced. "I am so middle-of-the-road on this. I'm struggling with two angels on my shoulders," said Bigelow.
Bigelow also declined to support the motion but said he was "torn" and could change his mind with time.
Tammy Hall said it was about what Algenol did for Lee County. Since she saw the $25 million as being for diversifying the economy and thought that putting research and development in Lee County was in its best interest. "If it doesn't go here, it goes somewhere else," said Hall. "...we signed up to take the heat in the kitchen..."
Acknowledging it was a hard decision, Hall supported the motion.
"At some point we have to put a flag in the sand and support research and development," Hall said.
This left the deciding vote with Commissioner Bob Janes.
Bigelow spoke up again first and said the revenue crisis was the deciding factor in his decision.
Commissioner Janes said "Aye" and the motion carried.
There was applause which Tammy Hall immediately quieted.
Algenol is coming to town.



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