Wetherells cleared in biomass plant probe

By Bruce Ritchie

A grand jury in Leon County has cleared city officials, Florida State University President T. K. Wetherell and his wife, Virginia Wetherell, of wrongdoing in the siting of a proposed biomass gas electric plant on FSU property.

Biomass Gas & Electric of Norcross, Ga. received approval from the governor and Cabinet in 2006 to build on 21 acres between Roberts Avenue and Jackson Bluff Road. Virginia Wetherell said last year she was a partner in the company.

The company withdrew its state permit application in January after the proposal drew opposition from the local NAACP chapter, County Commissioner Bill Proctor and some residents of the area. The NAACP and opponent Erwin Jackson asked Gov. Charlie Crist to investigate.

State Attorney Willie Meggs said in January he would present the issue to a grand jury, which on Tuesday found that none of the parties involved violated criminal or ethical laws. Meggs said tonight the grand jury report will conclude the investigation.

The report described how the company selected the site and that T.K. Wetherell withdrew from negotiations when there was an appearance of impropriety. Virginia Wetherell withdrew any financial interest she may have had in BG&E;’s FSU project, the grand jury said.

Virginia Wetherell, a former secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, tonight issued a statement through BG&E;’s public relations firm expressing her appreciation for the “thorough” examination of the facts.

“The grand jury’s decision is clear vindication that everyone associated with this project acted legally, ethically and in good faith to try to bring renewable energy to Tallahassee, and in turn, jobs, investments, and scientific research projects,” Wetherell said. “It saddens me that the city of Tallahassee and FSU, both of which I cherish, have lost these valuable opportunities because of a campaign of misinformation and vicious personal attacks.”