Biomass Battle Between Jasper City Officials, Healthy Dubois County Continues

Jasper city officials and members of Healthy Dubois County were back in court yesterday for a hearing in the ongoing litigation over the Jasper power plant.

The two sides squared off in Knox Circuit Court in Vincennes yesterday. Judge Sherry Gregg Gilmore presided over the 90 minute long debate that centered around whether a request made by Jasper city officials for a partial summary judgment should be granted.

The lawsuit was originally filed by Healthy Dubois County and others on August 4th of 2011. In the suit, the Jasper Common Council and the Jasper Utility Board are accused of violating the Indiana Open Door law in holding six executive sessions. These sessions were held on August 24th, September 13th, September 23rd, and December 20th of 2010 and May 2nd and June 28th of 2011. The lawsuit’s filing occurred one day before the two boards finalized an agreement to lease the power plant to Twisted Oak Corporation based in Atlanta, Georgia. Twisted Oak plans to operate the plant as the Jasper Clean Energy Center and it would burn natural gas and miscanthus grass.

The original lawsuit was heard in Perry Circuit Court by Judge Lucy Goffinet on December 19th and 20th of 2011. At that time, Healthy Dubois County made motions for more time to conduct discovery that would determine if the city violated the Open Door Law by using a volunteer group consisting of city council, utility board, and city officials to negotiate the lease details with Twisted Oak Corporation.

Additional requests were made including an amendment to continue the trial on grounds that the volunteer group did violate the law. Goffinet denied all requests and ruled in favor of the city back on January 3rd of last year. Healthy Dubois County filed an appeal on June 7th of last year and the appeals court ruled in Healthy Dubois County’s favor on November 19th of last year, at which time the state appeals court ordered a new trial. That trial is set to take place on January 14th and 15th of next year in Dubois County Circuit Court with Gregg Gilmore presiding as a special judge.

The summary judgement in the city’s favor was requested back in July for any claims of the six executive sessions being in violation of the Open Door Law as well as on claims by Healthy Dubois County’s claims for payment of its attorneys fees.

Gregg Gilmore says she will review all information and a ruling is expected in the next two and a half weeks. Both sides also agreed during yesterday’s trial to work out their differences on paperwork. City board attorney Greg Neibarger requested during yesterday’s hearing that the court mandate that Healthy Dubois County and its members give information as part of the discovery process. In this process, each side collects information and documents pertaining to the upcoming trial. Gregg Gilmore told the attorneys for each side to work out their differences within 10 days.

In other notes, Bill Kaiser, an attorney for the Bingham office in Jasper, has worked with the city on the lease agreement and was helping with the defense but he is no longer involved due to the plaintiffs planning to call him as a witness according to Neibarger.