But City of Crookston will need state bonding dollars to help with the costs of all of the necessary infrastructure.

    Positive vibes continue to build around Epitome Energy’s efforts to construct a soybean crush and biodiesel facility on just under 100 acres of land on Crookston’s southern edge.


    For one, the Crookston City Council and Crookston Housing and Economic Development Authority are teaming up to provide a $250,000 to Epitome and its founder Dennis Egan that will help cover the costs of the process associated with securing necessary air-quality permits. That loan amount is going to be matched by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.


    And for another, speaking of the Minnesota Department of Ag, MDA Commissioner Thom Petersen and Egan are poised to make a major announcement regarding Epitome Energy’s future in Crookston on Sept. 5. Although all of the specifics have yet to be ironed out, the announcement will take place that afternoon, a Thursday, at Valley Technology Park.


    As for the loan, the council’s Ways and Means Committee this week unanimously agreed to provide $75,000 of the $250,000. The money will come from the City’s Municipal Land and Building Fund, which Finance Director Angel Weasner said currently has a balance of approximately $1.2 million. (Revenue gleaned over the past several years from farm rent paid on the 100 City-owned acres has gone into that fund.) Another $75,000 is expected to come from CHEDA’s Valley Technology Park budget, which, due to some changes in the building’s rental and tenant philosophy, has gone from a negative balance to one that turns a profit annually and continues to build up a larger positive fund balance. The remaining $100,000 of the $250,000 is expected to come from funds totaling approximately $106,000 that Crookston Jobs, Inc. gifted to CHEDA when it dissolved a couple years ago. Crookston Jobs was a major economic development player in Crookston before CHEDA came into existence.


    The three-pronged configuration of contributors to the loan was the understanding of council members in approving the City’s $75,000 portion. The full council is expected to consider its committee’s action when it meets on Monday, Aug. 26. The next morning at VTP, the CHEDA Board will hold a special meeting to consider the proposal to tap CHEDA’s VTP budget and the Crookston Jobs money for the loan’s remaining $150,000.


    CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth, who has worked closely with Egan on the Epitome Energy venture, said he’s glad to see the city council and CHEDA partnering to come up with the $250,000 for the loan. Hoiseth continues to work with a CHEDA advisory committee that’s been formed and continues to meet weekly as a business subsidy agreement is crafted for the Epitome Energy project

Bonding necessary
    With President Donald Trump’s trade war with China greatly depressing the soybean market, farmers in Minnesota and North Dakota are especially eager to see Epitome Energy become a reality in Crookston. Lawmakers from both parties in the Minnesota Legislature appear to be on board with efforts to make the venture a reality in Crookston.


    But, although the City previously invested $300,000 to $400,000 in infrastructure in the area after the City bought the 100 acres previously known as the “Colborn property,” much more infrastructure-related things need to get done to get roads and other utilities directly to the Epitome Energy site. (A state grant of approximately $500,000 was previously approved to go toward the cost of the necessary new railroad spur.)


    It’s anticipated that the City of Crookston will request anywhere from $7 to $9 million in the form of state bonding dollars – in the legislature’s Capital Investment bill – to cover infrastructure costs associated with the Epitome Energy project. City Administrator Shannon Stassen, in his weekly update to City staff this week, indicated he’d discussed the City’s likely bonding request with District 1B State Rep. Deb Kiel, a Republican from rural Crookston. Stassen tells the Times he and Kiel discussed other cities who have gone through the state bonding process for similar major developments, and what the City of Crookston needs to do to increase its chances of successfully securing state funds.


    The closest and most relevant example is found in Thief River Falls, Kiel told the Times when reached Friday. When Sanford Health built a new hospital on the southwest edge of the city, a lot of roads and other infrastructure were necessary, and the City of Thief River Falls sought and was able to secure state bonding dollars to help with the costs.


    Although Kiel said there does appear to be widespread support for Epitome Energy becoming a reality in Crookston, she said the realization that Crookston will be seeking bonding dollars in the 2020 legislative session is “a little late” compared to other bonding proposals.


    “It’s a little bit behind,” Kiel said, adding that, “on the plus side,” MDA Commissioner Petersen “is very interested in this.”


    Kiel said she is perhaps most enthusiastic by the potential offshoots of a soybean crush and biodiesel operation in Crookston. “I don’t know if many people are aware, but the type of soybeans grown in our area, they hold a lot of promise for other products besides soy diesel,” she said, adding that AURI and a potential Soy Innovation Campus through the U of M could fill especially valuable roles in deriving other products from the soybeans processed at Epitome Energy.


    “I just think there’s real promise there, being able to produce products that go beyond soy diesel,” Kiel said. “There is a tremendous opportunity to increase the value of soybeans in our area.”