Henderson mayor says fate still uncertain over sale of utility

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HENDERSON, Ky. (WEHT) — It’s a story we first brought you in early January, when Henderson-based Big Rivers Electric Corp. announced plans to move to Owensboro which will cost the city millions of dollars and nearly 120 jobs.

Henderson Mayor Steve Austin is now responding and he confirmed the entire ordeal between Big Rivers and HMP&L started after negotiations fell through on who was responsible for cleanup of the Station Two Power Plant in Sebree, Ky. 

“Towards the end of that negotiation, Big Rivers offered another possibility and that was to purchase Henderson Municipal Power and Light and make that a seperate Big Rivers subsidiary and serve our local customers,” Mayor Austin said. 

Five Henderson businessmen tried to negotiate a settlement between Big Rivers Electric and Henderson Municipal Power and Light (HMPL)  involving the 2019 closure of the Station Two Power Plant.

According to the mayor, the problems are complex in order for Big Rivers to move forward with a deal to buy HMP&L and it’s not entirely clear how the purchase would work. 

“We didn’t know how to sell the utility, and if that was an option for the city and HMP&L,” Mayor Austin said. “My understanding is over the past 50 years there hasn’t been a municipal utility sold to a private entity.”

Big Rivers officials previously provided Eyewitness News with documents showing a 2018 offer and 2020 offer to purchase HMP&L from the city. Mayor Austin said he wasn’t aware of a 2018 offer from Big Rivers, but said he was surprised to learn Big Rivers put yet another offer on the table this week.

“Monday we received a proposal from Big Rivers, it’s very similar to the first proposal but there are some differences in it, there’s four to five differences in it, and their request was to present the proposal to the city commission,” Mayor Austin explained. 

Mayor Austin said that request could ultimately be met in February when representatives with Big Rivers are scheduled to meet with the Henderson City Commission. 

“We are reaching out to make a last ditch effort to resolve these issues,” Big Rivers Electric Corp. CEO Bob Berry said. “Our proposal is really two fold, it ends all this expensive litigation between the two parties – it’s not profitable for anyone other than the attorneys, number two is it provides a lot of benefit for the city of Henderson.” 

Eyewitness News has tried to obtain a copy of the latest proposal. but it hasn’t been made public.

Berry said the proposal includes a $90 million purchase up front for the utility and $2 million franchise fee for life. The proposed deal would also resolve the issues at the Station Two Power Plant.

Both sides are now waiting until the Henderson City Commission meeting on February 23 for a presentation on the latest proposed offer. 

(This story was originally published on January 27, 2021)

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