Macon-Bibb, Industrial Authority end talks with Brightmark on plastics recycling plant

Parties concluded ‘without local support’ $680 million plant would not be in best interest of Brightmark or the authority


Brightmark has a plastics recycling plant in Ashley, Indiana, but planned to build another facility twice that size in Macon.

A proposal to build a $680 million dollar plastics renewal plant, largely funded by $500 million in government bonds, is dead. The Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority and Brightmark Plastics Renewal Georgia agreed to drop plans for the facility near the Middle Georgia Regional Airport.

The company pledged its “state-of-the-art and proprietary plastics renewal process” could sustainably recycle all type of plastic waste and convert it to useful products including renewable fuels and wax. 

In late December, Brightmark admitted to the authority it failed to meet the deadline to prove its facility in the upper midwest was able to deliver the recycled end-product to another user, which was a condition of the sale, according to the termination contract which The Macon Newsroom acquired Monday through an open records request.

Last week, the authority and the company agreed to terminate their prior agreements and release this statement: “Macon-Bibb County, the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority, and Brightmark have mutually agreed to end discussions around building a plastic recycling plant in Macon. No outstanding issues remain.”

Wednesday, a link on the authority’s website to learn more about Brightmark’s Macon facility showed that information is no longer available.

Last June, local officials proudly announced the authority was pursuing $500 million in industrial development revenue bonds to help finance the sprawling plant that was to be built on up to 125 acres off Cochran Field and Walden roads.

A Memorandum of Understanding allowed for the company to reap property tax savings by providing an initial investment of up to $430 million and guarantee 110 full-time jobs.

Georgia’s Department of Economic Development followed with a OneGeorgia grant of $500,000 that would be administered through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, or DCA.

Both agreements were contingent on Brightmark “demonstrating the company’s ability to proceed with the development of the project by showing that the company’s affiliated processing facility in Ashley, Indiana, was able to deliver end-product to one or more off-takers.”

In other words, Brightmark had to prove they could do what they said they could do by recycling all kinds of plastics, including items that are not readily recycled such as Styrofoam, cups and toys, and market that recycled material for other uses.

By last fall, environmental groups were lobbying against the plant and some opposing the project attended a virtual bond hearing in November to caution the authority about potential detrimental impacts. Those anticipated environmental threats included the climate-warming carbon that would ultimately be released into the atmosphere when the fuels made in the Brightmark process were burned.

“It’s just taking one type of plastic pollution and turning it into emissions pollution in the air, which is not recycling,” Jessica Wahl of the advocacy group Environment Georgia said during the hearing.

On the last day of the year, Brightmark notified the authority that it had not met the demonstrated commercial operations obligations required in the purchase and sale agreement for the property.

“Although Brightmark anticipated that our Indiana facility would have achieved commercial operation this year, several factors have led to this delay, including that our venders and staff continue to suffer from COVID-19 outbreaks,” Brightmark Vice President Shakil Rahman said in the Dec. 31 letter.

A week later, Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller wrote a Jan. 7 letter to the authority withdrawing his support for the project: “While we should and will continue to support green energy, economic development and technical jobs, we cannot ignore the long-term safety concerns of this unproven process that have been raised in the last several weeks.”

Days later, the authority issued a termination notice to Brightmark, but the company refuted the mayor’s claims and opted to pay $100,000 to allow them until June 30 to prove the process.

“Our Indiana facility continues to make strides towards commercial operation, achieving new milestones on a regular basis. Ultimately, we are confident that the Indiana facility will reach commercial operation before June,” Brightmark Vice President Ignacio Fuentes said in a Jan. 28 letter.

Althought Brightmark paid the money, further discussions with the authority led the parties to dissolve their agreements.

Under the termination contract, the authority keeps the $100,000 for the extension and any earnest money Brightmark paid to the authority.

The agreement also calls for Brightmark to provide the authority, at no cost, any boundary survey, topographical survey, geotechnical report, environmental site assessment, civil engineering plans for purposes of grading and stormwater pollution prevention plan for the Airport Industrial Park property in south Bibb County.

The authority also agreed to cooperate with potential efforts to build a Brightmark plant somewhere else in Georgia, with the agreement of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.