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DALE, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) – The legal drama continues over a planned $2 billion coal-to-diesel facility in Spencer County. The Indiana Office of Environmental Adjudication has ruled in favor of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s extension an air permit for Delaware-based Riverview Energy Corp.

The extension was challenged by Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life Inc. and Valley Watch Inc., which have been seeking to block the initial approval of the permit, as well as its extension. The groups claim IDEM did not have the authority to issue the extension and the reasoning for Riverview seeking the extension was not sufficient.

Riverview requested the permit extension last year it says primarily due to the the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the continued litigation surrounding the project was also listed as a factor. IDEM awarded the extension of the permit, which now runs through 2022 and was challenged by the groups.

Chief Environmental Law Judge Mary Davidsen ruled the petitioners, SICQL and Valley Watch, “have failed to provide sufficient evidence to create a general issue of material fact in this manner.”

“This case had no merit, and the court saw that,” Greg Merle, president of Riverview Energy, said in a news release. “We had confidence in our argument for extension, and put that before IDEM through the proper process — and IDEM, as it has done consistently, applied Indiana law and federal standing guidance. The court’s decision is another win for the people of Spencer County and the region, and we’re continuing forward to bring this project and the jobs and opportunity that come with it to this community.”

The coal-to-diesel facility project in the Spencer County town of Dale was first announced in 2018. Riverview Energy says the plant will be the first direct coal-hydrogenation refinery in the U.S., capable of producing 4.8 million barrels of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, as well as 2.5 million barrels of naptha.

In September 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency denied a petition to block the air permit issued by IDEM in 2019. Three months later, the OEA also denied a petition to block the issuance of the permit. The OEA’s decision was challenged the following month in an appeal filed in Marion County Superior Court, which has not yet been resolved.

Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life issued the following statement Monday to Inside INdiana Business:

Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life (SWICQL) stand by our challenge to IDEM’s extension of Riverview’s coal-to-diesel refinery construction permit in Dale until 2022.

Riverview offered no valid reason why the original permit should be extended for another 18 months; in fact, they blamed COVID and SWICQL for delaying the start of construction. Riverview’s original permit granted them full ability to begin construction in the first 18 months of their permit, and construction projects throughout the country continued during COVID. In other words, their excuses for requesting an extension were weak at best.

However, IDEM rubber-stamped another 18-month extension, and the OEA rubber-stamped IDEM’s approval. The OEA ruled that ongoing litigation was sufficient to keep Riverview from building its refinery, and at the same time denied our appeal to stop the permit extension for failing to provide public notice. The OEA essentially ruled that it will decide against citizens groups like ours until there is no option left to oppose refinery builders, at which time IDEM will continue to give industries like Riverview a free pass to do as they like in Indiana.

SWICQL along with Valley Watch and our representatives from Earthjustice will continue to oppose IDEM’s decision to grant Riverview’s permit to construct this ridiculous coal-to-diesel refinery close to our homes. We are presently appealing the OEA’s ruling on the permit in Marion County Superior Court.

You can connect to the most recent OEA ruling by clicking here.

SANTA CLAUS, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari is preparing to open its 2021 season in May. The Spencer County amusement park, which is celebrating its 75th season this year, says it expects an increased number of visitors and is planning to hire up to 2,200 seasonal employees. 

Holiday World held a virtual hiring event last weekend, however hundreds of jobs are still available, most of which are available to applicants who will be at least 16 years-old by April. Officials are also encouraging retirees, educators and other adults seeking seasonal employment to apply.

The park says it is hiring more workers this season due to the expected increase travelers.

“We’re still uncertain what our 2021 Season will bring,” said Matt Eckert, president and chief executive officer of Holiday World. “We suspect a surge of interest in travel may arrive by mid-season, and we want to be prepared.”

Some of the departments with available positions include food and beverage, ride operations and lifeguards.

You can learn more about the open jobs by clicking here.

DALE, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Opponents of a proposed $2 billion coal-to-diesel facility in Spencer County are appealing a decision by the Indiana Office of Environmental Adjudication. Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life and Valley Watch Inc. had previously sought to block an air permit for the project from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

The facility is being developed by Delaware-based Riverview Energy Corp. First announced in 2018, the Dale plant, according to the company, will be the first direct coal-hydrogenation refinery in the U.S., having the ability to produce 4.8 million barrels of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, as well as 2.5 million barrels of naptha.

In a December ruling, the OEA said the opponents “failed to present substantial evidence required to meet its burden that IDEM improperly issued the Permit to Riverview.” 

In the appeal, filed in Marion County Superior Court, the opponents say the OEA committed legal errors by upholding the permit.

“In the decision of the OEA, we were held to an impossible standard,” said Mary Hess, President of SWICQL. “The responsibility of proving engineering and technical issues should not fall on the shoulders of community organizations. We will pursue every avenue available to give a voice to those who support us, as we continue to shed light on the fact that Riverview Energy, having had their permit for over 19 months, has yet to break ground.”

In a statement to Inside INdiana Business, a spokesperson for Riverview said the company believes the court acted in compliance with the law and established procedures.

“The adjudication court’s decision was highly thorough, based on established legal precedent, and involved months of deliberation after nearly a week of testimony provided from both sides by engineering and regulatory experts. The court provided the plaintiffs with months of extensions to develop their case, and ample opportunity to present their case when the time finally came for all parties to be heard,” the spokesperson said. “We now move forward with our next steps in bringing this innovative hydrogen-energy project to Dale and the Spencer County community.”

The spokesperson says the next steps in the project include plans to break ground in Dale before the fourth quarter. 

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Inside INdiana Business) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing $268 million to modernize rural drinking water and wastewater infrastructure across 28 states, including Indiana. The department is awarding Rockport-based REO Water Inc. more than $12.6 million to make improvements that meet the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s regulations.

The department says the project will help remove any potential health risk for nearly 5,000 people in the service area. REO Water’s current water system is more than 50 years old.

The project will also bring REO Water into compliance with American Water Works Association and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.

“Upgrading the infrastructure that delivers safe drinking water and modern wastewater management facilities will improve public health and drive economic development in our small towns and cities,” said Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Bette Brand.

The USDA is funding 76 projects through the Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program. In total, the department says the investments will improve rural water infrastructure for more than 265,000 residents and businesses across the country.

DALE, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Plans for a much-discussed $2 billion coal-to-diesel facility in Spencer County are still in play following a ruling from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Delaware-based Riverview Energy Corp. says the agency in March denied a petition to block a key permit for the facility in the town of Dale, a ruling which went unchallenged.

The final air permit was issued by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management in June 2019 and was originally challenged by Southwest Citizens for Quality of Life Inc. and Valley Watch. The petitioners had until August to challenge the EPA’s ruling.

“The EPA’s decision last spring is a clear message that the United States is serious about opening the door for an all-of-the-above energy strategy that welcomes and supports clean-coal and hydrogen innovation,” Greg Merle, president of Riverview Energy, said in a news release.

However, the project still faces a hurdle at the state level; an appeal of the IDEM permit has yet to be ruled on by a judge.

Plans for what Riverview Energy calls the first U.S. direct coal-hydrogenation refinery were first announced in March 2018. At the time, the project was set to cost $2.5 billion, but a spokesperson says design and development adjustments lowered the overall cost.

Riverview Energy says the facility will be able to produce 4.8 million barrels of ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel that is 30% cleaner than federal standards, as well as 2.5 million barrels of naptha, which is used in solvents, fuels and plastics. 

The company says the plant will use a coal-hydrogenation process in which coal particles are processed using a carbon-free method that does not burn or gasify the goal. The particles are then hydrogenated in a closed system at high pressure and temperature.

“The plant will have a significantly lower carbon footprint than other technologies, and nothing will go to waste,” Merle said. “All the plant’s products will be marketable – and with stricter federal regulations in auto fuel efficiency and now in global marine shipping, the market is prime for this innovative process that uses the U.S’s vast coal resources in a highly clean process.”

Riverview Energy says construction on the plant is expected to take three years to complete, though a timeline for groundbreaking was not provided. The project is expected to create about 2,000 construction jobs and 200 permanent jobs.

SANTA CLAUS, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari is looking for 250 additional workers to help with the park’s new inLine reservation system and to support new cleaning procedures due to COVID-19. 

“We’re excited to have a reason to add 250 jobs for this season. We know this has been a difficult time for a lot of families, and we’re excited to add job opportunities this year,” says Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari President Matt Eckert.

Holiday World already announced new procedures and their opening plans for the park’s 74th season and are now preparing to implement all the new plans. Several jobs perks are available for seasonal workers, including food and merchandise discounts, season pass and one employee will even win $10,000 this season. 

More information on jobs can be found here

SANTA CLAUS, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Holiday World plans to open to the public with 50% capacity on June 17, with some earlier days reserved for season passholders. The park will sell date-specific tickets online that will need to be taken to the part for admittance. 

“We want to make sure everyone who shows up gets to enter the park,” says Park President Matt Eckert. “While we know some complexities are going to be necessary, we want to try to keep this process as simple as possible. If you have a Season Pass or a ticket with the date on it, you’re all set to come enjoy the parks. It’s that simple.” 

The phased-in plan calls for Holiday World to open first, with Splashin’ Safari’s opening coming no later than July 4.

“It’s important that we open slowly and safely, so we want to make sure we have Holiday World operations finely tuned when we open Splashin’ Safari,” adds Eckert. 

Park guests will be asked to use Holiday World’s new virtual queuing system, inLine Reservation System. Guests will be asked to enter the queue via their phones, then return to wait in a 5-15 minute line. Those who choose not use phones will be able to use a barcoded wristband. 

Other changes at the park include ground decals for help with social distancing, limited indoor seating at restaurants and properly distanced seating in outside dining areas. The park has also added 90 hand “Santatizer” stations and have increased sanitation procedures for high-touch areas. 

ST. MEINRAD, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — A Spencer County company says construction on its new manufacturing plant has been slightly delayed. Saint Meinrad-based Automated Routing Inc. is investing nearly $2 million in the facility, which is now slated to open in August.

The plant was originally expected to open just north of the Perry County town of Troy this spring. However, the company says precautionary delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic moved the opening date to later in the year.

The Indiana Statewide Certified Development Corp. is assisting Automated Routing with loan funding for the project. The company is a specialty CNC router company that specializes in machining and assembling products largely for original equipment furniture manufacturers.

“We’re working every day to make sure our customers have the parts they need to build their products,” Barry Schaefer, co-owner of Automated Routing, said in a news release from the Statewide CDC. “Meanwhile, we’re looking forward to adding to our capacity and diversifying our range of services.”

The new facility will add 50,000 square feet to the company’s operations, bringing its total square footage to nearly 250,000. Automated Routing employs 135 people and plans to add 10 workers in the future.

SANTA CLAUS, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — The scheduled opening of America’s first theme park was supposed to be Saturday, May 2 but the pandemic has postponed it until early June, but now park operators will be hosting a digital opening day instead.

Park president Matt Eckert and owner Leah Koch will digitally welcome guests and will cap it off with a fireworks show and a drawing for free tickets. 

“We may not be able to welcome guests through our gates on May 2 as we had originally planned,” says fourth-generation owner, Leah Koch, “but we’re going to celebrate it just the same.” 

The park plans to release videos every hour between 9am and 9pm Central time, including interactive videos, printable worksheets and cooking tutorials to make Holiday World food at home. The Spencer County park will also host an appreciation hour for all healthcare and essential workers. 

“Opening day is a special day that we count down toward every year. We can’t wait until we can open our gates to guests again, but until then we’re going to celebrate and help our guests bring opening day home,” adds Koch.

An official list of the day’s events can be found here.

SANTA CLAUS, Ind. (WEHT) – It’s that time of year and children across the globe – near or far – are sending their Christmas list to Santa Claus.

In Santa Claus, Indiana, Santa and his special helpers are responding to thousands of children across the world.

It’s touching to know that the Christmas spirit lives on no matter the age, old or young, Santa’s special helpers gather for weeks or even months to respond to over 25,000 individual letters sent from countries like China, Russia, England, and right here at home.

No matter the disagreements between some nations the common goal is for a child’s face to light up when they hear form jolly ole Saint Nick. Every letter is read, answered, and responded to with heart, passion and Christmas spirit.

“We want every child to be able to receive a letter from Santa Claus and that means that Santa needs lots of help with volunteers – nobody ever pays for a letter a stamp or anything this is all volunteer,” Pat Koch stated.

Countless volunteers work around the clock, seven days a week, to respond to letters like this one that reads “Dear Santa, I’m not eating my booger anymore, so now you can bring me some toys”, or like this letter from Trenton, “Dear Santa, I want a trip to Pennsylvania by myself with my very own ticket.” A funny letter, filled with innocence can make us all laugh, but for Chris Sheffield some letters are filled with the reality and heartbreak.

“They asked to have their family back together and that’s hard to write back to it really tugs on your heart strings,” Sheffield recalled.

According to head elf Pat Koch they see it all, letters written in Spanish, German, and even Mandarin, but that doesn’t stop their goal. With the help of each other, every wish is read, every wish is taken seriously, and every wish is responded to.

“The key to answering the letter is to read the child’s letter that the child has written to take very seriously what the child has said because they really pour their heart out there maybe some parents don’t know the child tells us,” Koch said.

And whether you believe, or you don’t, he’s making his list, and he’s checking it twice, he will find out if you were naughty or nice.

“I really believe in Santa Claus and I think children should believe in Santa Claus,” Koch said.

Since 1914, Santa’s helpers have been responding to millions of letters. Santa’s Elves are asking that all letters be submitted no later than Dec. 20 for a reply.

If you want to send your letters to Santa, you can send them to: Santa Claus, PO Box 1, Santa Claus IN 47579.