Brightmark Energy Coming to Ashley
Article by Mike Marturello | KPC News | May 26, 2019
ASHLEY — When Brightmark Energy broke ground on its innovative waste-to-fuel plant in Ashley on Wednesday, town Clerk-Treasurer Karen McEntarfer was wearing a smiley face pin.
A bright yellow button that’s emblematic of the town’s famous water tower stood proud on the lapel of Karen’s bold red jacket.
It served as a reminder of her husband, the late Randy McEntarfer, who had been Karen’s partner in so many endeavors, particularly working selflessly for the town of Ashley for some four decades. And it was the pin given to Randy as a way of saying Brightmark — then RES Polyflow — had chosen Ashley as its first plant in the United States.
“The town of Ashley has been a very important part of this process,” said Michael Dungan, one of the original members of the RES Polyflow team that became part of Brightmark Energy through a funding deal that allowed the company to acquire RES Poly.
Landing San Francisco-based Brightmark has been like hitting the ball out of the park, scoring a touchdown and hosting the Super Bowl — all in one — for Ashley.
“It’s so awesome. When Randy and I went to that first interview with them in January of 2015 we were like, ‘This is amazing, this will change the world.’ We were just like so happy that they would consider our location,” Karen said.
Over the course of that year the McEntarfers worked with the original developer of what will become the first commercial waste-to-fuel operation, RES Polyflow. The Steuben County Board of Commissioners were approached, with RES Poly seeking a $1 million loan, which eventually grew to $1.5 million. Then in December 2015, company officials asked if they could use the Ashley Community Center for their board of directors meeting.
“We were so hopeful at that point,” Karen said.
The RES Poly board met behind closed doors in the town’s council chambers, then called Randy to invite him to join the meeting.
“And they gave him that smiley pin and they said they chose Ashley. He was in tears. You know, Randy is an emotional person. Then he comes back to my office and he goes, ‘They’re coming, they’re coming!’ It was so exciting, but we couldn’t say anything because they have to make the official announcement. And we’re like, ‘Oh my goodness. Ashley will be on the global map,” Karen said.
“Randy is no longer with us, but I will always remember the tears in his eyes when we pulled him into our board meeting and informed him Ashley is the home of our plant. Call it faith, call it heart call it whatever you want. It’s the reason we’re here and it’s the reason we will be successful,” said Jay Schabel, president of Brightmark’s plastics division and the original president of RES Polyflow.
Brightmark Energy is bringing to Ashley the first of its planned facilities that will take plastic waste that is not recyclable and convert it to low-sulfur diesel fuel and industrial wax.
This plastics-to-fuel facility will convert 100,000 tons of plastic waste into 18 million gallons of ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel and naphtha blend stocks and 6 million gallons of wax per year. It will employ 136 people when fully operational, 70 initially when it starts production in late 2020 or early 2021.
It was what would be the most important of so many projects Randy had worked on over the years in his roles as a town council member and town manager.
“Randy was the go-getter. He had a vision.” Karen said. “We were a team. He was the front-line person, and I was behind the scenes.”
Brightmark has the potential of putting Ashley on the map, Karen says, a place it could have been when Ashley was in competition with Garrett and other communities for the Walmart distribution center that chose Garrett.
“We weren’t ready for that one,” Karen said. It woke the town up. The town started creating tax increment financing districts and put other tools in place to assist industry so it would be ready for the next big fish. With Brightmark, Ashley reeled in the big fish. And there’s much potential for many more businesses to locate in the shadow of Mr. Smiley as providers to Brightmark.
“Oh, definitely. There will be spinoffs from this,” Karen said. “There will be all these little companies that open up. This will be just like Butler with SDI. I think this will be the same scenario.”
Brightmark wages will range from $12 an hour to more than $100,000 a year depending on role, education level and years of experience, said Jamie Nolan, Brightmark spokesperson. Positions will range from entry-level plant floor jobs to senior engineers.
Brightmark will put Ashley on the map for being home to such an innovative company trying to produce a product while tackling a huge problem, a world filling up with plastic trash.
Unfortunately, Randy was not able to see the project make it to the groundbreaking stage. He died Feb. 21, 2016, at home.
Karen didn’t give up on the project just three months after RES Poly made its decision.
There were numerous road bumps with the project, particularly financing. There were times when Steuben County government officials wondered if they would ever see a penny of the $1.5 million repaid, which started accruing interest because the first payoff deadline had not been met. After Brightmark came aboard with its infusion of cash, things started to come together much quicker.
Now that groundbreaking is over, that doesn’t mean everything is said and done. Crews from JICI Construction are building the plant, and Karen doesn’t only have to worry about keeping the town running.
Karen is still trying to nail down funds for infrastructure that the town has committed to providing. Beyond what the town has in TIF money and the $1.5 million Steuben County has agreed to loan Ashley after the initial loan was repaid, Karen is trying to line up grant money to assist in funding infrastructure. If the town can’t come up with grants, it will bond for the remainder of the funds.
It’s just the beginning, a new beginning for Ashley.