There are mixed signals regarding the future of the planned Hyperion oil refinery, set to be built near Elk Point in Union County. On Wednesday, Hyperion officials are set to appear before the South Dakota Supreme Court to argue an air quality permit the facility would need from the state to begin operations. But on Monday afternoon, Hyperion officials confirmed to KSFY that they are allowing existing land leases near Elk Point to expire...meaning, Hyperion will not have any land agreements in place for the property needed to build the refinery.
In an e-mail this afternoon, a Hyperion spokesman tells me existing land leases for the Hyperion project expired on Sunday and were not renewed. The company says it will begin evaluating other options and opportunities. But when asked why the land leases were allowed to expire in the first place, the company did not respond, saying only Hyperion will continue to have a dialogue with landowners in Union County. In September 2011, the state of South Dakota gave the green light for construction of the refinery to begin. But that green light was challenged by the environmental advocacy group The Sierra Club, and while a lower court judge ruled in Hyperion's favor, the Sierra Club appealed to the Supreme Court which delayed the project. In 2008, Union County voters approved the project in a public vote. Part of that success is attributed to then-governor Mike Rounds public support of the refinery idea. And in response to that vote, the city of Elk Point spent millions to improve streets, water and sewer. An estimated 5,000 construction jobs would have been created during the building phase, and once the refinery was completed, 2,000 day-to-day jobs would have come to the Union County area. A little more than five months ago, Hyperion Energy spokesman Preston Phillips told me in a sit down interview that the company was committed to seeing this project through...court delays notwithstanding. "We've spent scores of millions of dollars on this project: we're committed to Union County and we're committed to really creating a tremendous economic opportunity for the entire region."
With the news of Hyperion allowing the needed land for the project to slip away, it is not anyone's guess if Hyperion will continue to push the project here or try to take it somewhere else. In that same April 2012 interview, Hyperion's Preston Phillips did express to me some frustration that the project had yet to fully take off. "Obviously we would be happier if we were further along and a lot of out shareholders would too. The progress is taking longer than most people had hoped for."
We are going to work this story over the next couple of days to see if we can get some clarity from Hyperion as to exactly why they allowed these land leases to lapse.
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