Milk plant proposal still divisive in conference committee

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(Host) A proposal to earmark state funding for a milk processing plant in Springfield is part of the Senate version of next year’s capital construction bill. The issue has emerged as key bargaining chip in the House-Senate conference committee that’s reviewing the bill.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) When the Senate passed its version of the Capital bill, it included an appropriation of $500,000 to allow the state to purchase an equity share in the proposal to rebuild an abandoned processing facility.

A group of dairy farmers, known as the Dairy Farmers of Vermont, is lining up financial support for the proposal, which is expected to cost about $5.5 million. The group is putting together a financial package that includes private investors, the state investment and a large commercial bank loan.

The farmers say owning the plant will allow them to increase their incomes because they’ll be eliminating the middleman from this process. Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch says the half-million dollar appropriation is a good way for the state to show its support for the dairy industry. And Welch defended the decision to have the state buy an equity share in the facility:

(Welch) “The business plan that was put together by the farmers’ group has passed the market test as reviewed by commercial lenders at a major bank in the state of Vermont. We think it would enormously helpful to Vermont agriculture and to the Vermont economy if the state of Vermont in a small way could help facilitate success on putting together a dairy processing plant.”

(Kinzel) House Institutions Chairman Bob Wood is unenthusiastic about the proposal. Wood thinks it’s wrong for the state to actually become a part owner of this facility:

(Wood) “I don’t think the state should have an equity position in this type of a plant anymore than I think we should in the power business. I think private industry is there for a purpose and I favor that.”

(Kinzel) Wood says there are roughly ten major issues dividing the House and Senate over the capital bill and he says money for the Springfield plant will be discussed with all the others.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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