by Julie Ann Madden
“The Gorilla passed away last night at midnight,” an opponent of the Hyperion oil refinery told The Akron Hometowner Monday morning.
Hyperion officials had until midnight, Sept. 30 to renegotiate deals with Union County landowners who had given them options to buy their land for their proposed 400,000 barrels a day refinery and Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle plant.
However, some landowners didn’t agree to the 30-day extension on their Aug. 31 land option payment and others balked at Hyperion’s new deal, which supposedly included no annual land option payments and no specific expiration date — just to expire when the legal challenges ended.
“On Friday, I talked to (Hyperion Land Agent) Dick White and he said it was all a ‘go,’” said landowner Alyce Law of Des Moines, who gave Hyperion an option on 160 acres of land in the refinery footprint. “Then nothing happened.”
Her annual land option payment wasn’t delivered on Friday so Monday morning she called Hyperion Refining LLC’s Preston Phillips to see if it was being delivered that day, Oct. 1.
“He indicated my land was not going to be part of the Hyperion project,” said Law in a telephone interview Monday afternoon. “Now I’d be the title holder to my own property (again). I could continue farming my land.”
“I was led to believe that this was going to be the demise of the project,” she said. “My understanding was the project would not be going forward.”
However, by Monday afternoon, she wasn’t sure if she fully or clearly understood when she talked with Preston Phillips because Hyperion officials were telling media sources they were still going forward.
“We did not extend land options in Union County on Sept. 30, and we are evaluating our various options and opportunities,” wrote Eric Williams, spokesperson for Hyperion Refining LLC, in an email Monday afternoon. “We appreciate the long-standing and continued support of the landowners in Union County and are continuing to dialogue with them.”
“We look forward to appearing before the South Dakota Supreme Court this Wednesday on the appeal of our air permit,” concluded Williams’ email.
When asked if she would enter into an agreement with Hyperion officials again, Law responded, “Under the circumstances, probably not.”
Until the last few weeks, I would have continued optioning her land. However, not now because of the way it has been handled at the very end, said Law, noting since she lived out of Union County, she had been removed from the negativity here.
As of Monday, Hyperion officials had not released any land options filed with the Union County Register of Deeds Office. Until these agreements are officially released, landowners still may not make decisions to do other things such as sell the land to other parties.
“(It’s been) Only seven years,” said Ed Cable, spokesperson for Save Union County which has opposed this project since there were whispers of a “Gorilla” in Union County.
“I’m pretty confident without land control, the rezoning is null and void,” he said, “and the air permit becomes null and void because it was based on a particular layout on a particular land map.”
“That’s my laymen’s opinion,” said Cable who was waiting for opponents’ attorneys to call but said he was pretty confident they’d confirm that.
“Obviously, (Hyperion) would have to start back at Square One in acquiring land if they wanted to proceed, filing new permits for wherever,” said Cable.
With today’s S.D. Supreme Court hearing, Cable hoped on Monday Hyperion officials “would just withdraw the whole thing and none of us would have to appear but I’m not optimistic they will do that.”