Valdosta Daily Times

October 30, 2012

Authority serves papers in Wiregrass Power lawsuit

Third party to determine contract issue

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The Valdosta-Lowndes County Industrial Authority is moving ahead with its suit against Wiregrass Power, LLC for the restoration of original land ownership rights.

All adjacent landowners and other interested parties, including the City of Valdosta and the Lowndes County Board of Commissioners, have been served court documents detailing the suit, and a special master (a lawyer with considerable knowledge in real estate contract issues) has been hired.

The special master will conduct an investigation of the facts as he sees fit and present his finding to the judge, who will decide whether to approve it, said the Authority’s lawyer, Edward Preston of Coleman Talley, LLP.

Southern Circuit Judge James Tunison appointed Willis L. Miller III as special master. Miller brings more than 30 years contract experience to the case, Preston said.

“You want to pick somebody who has some, in this case, real estate knowledge and familiarity with contracts,” Preston said. “Someone who can interpret a contract.”

The issue between Wiregrass and the Authority boils down to whether a certain clause regarding what constitutes a default in the service agreement “has been triggered” or not, Preston said.

Wiregrass is claiming a contractual right to purchase the land which was leased to them by the Authority while the Authority maintains Wiregrass waived that right when it failed to build on schedule.

The suit states Wiregrass, knowing it would be unable to meet the July 1, 2011 deadline to begin construction of a biomass energy generation facility, attempted to exercise its option to purchase the 22.2-acre plot of land for $200,000, as stipulated in the contract.

Wiregrass notified the Authority of its intentions May 25, 2011, but the Authority argues Wiregrass was already in default of the contract due to failure to make satisfactory progress, and therefore did not have this option.

“It comes down to do they have the right to buy the property, and if so, under what terms?” Preston said. “Our issue is they don’t. The conditions that needed to be satisfied to exercise the option never occurred, so they’re done.”

Whether the Authority or Wiregrass wins the case, it is clear a biomass plant will not be constructed on the property, but other energy plants, such as solar, may be in the works, according to the Authority.