A press conference aimed at holding STAR BioEnergy, Heaven Hill Distilleries and the Louisville mayor’s office accountable turned into a rally for Simmons College and its president, the Rev. Kevin Cosby.
“I want to thank our president Rev. Cosby for all the work he has put into Simmons. After 10 years of not taking a dime and giving all the money back to the students, if it wasn’t for his sacrifice we wouldn’t be here right now,” Richard Hughes, a Simmons College student, said at the Monday morning press conference called by an activist group dubbed the West Louisville First Coalition.
“All of you all who have been talking negative about him, been slandering him, on behalf of the Simmons nation, we want to keep our president’s name out (of your) mouth,” he continued. “Leave our president alone.”
Such comments from Hughes and other speakers were in response to criticism Cosby has faced since coming out as one of the negotiators of a $5 million investment STAR BioEnergy has promised to west Louisville.
The Indiana-based company wants to build a $32 million anaerobic digester that would turn stillage from Heaven Hill Distilleries and food waste into methane gas. The plan has sparked controversy among concerned residents in and around the California neighborhood — where the plant is being proposed — and some say Cosby only became involved in the matter when he saw how it could benefit him.
“It was misrepresented somehow that this is something that Kevin Cosby was going to benefit from personally,” Cosby told Insider Louisville. “The fact of the matter is that this was for them, for the students. The unintended consequence, which is great for me as their president, is it galvanized them to want to get involved in this community and the issues of this community.”
Classes at Simmons College were cancelled Monday at the students’ request because they wanted to attend the press conference, according to Cosby, who also serves as senior pastor at St. Stephen Church.
Last week, Cosby, other religious leaders and several opponents of the proposed methane plant met with city leaders, along with representatives from STAR BioEnergy and Heaven Hill. During the meeting, STAR BioEnergy and Heaven Hill agreed to invest $5 million in the community spread out over a more than a decade.
During those negotiations, Cosby said Simmons College was promised ownership of the former Schenley Distillery building, next to the site of the proposed plant, as well as $1 million to renovate the building. However, Cosby said last week that STAR BioEnergy is trying to renege on the agreement.
STAR BioEnergy has declined to comment on Cosby’s claims, saying details of the agreement are still being worked out.
Cosby said he has not reached out to Mayor Greg Fischer or to STAR BioEnergy since speaking out at last week’s press conference and expects them to reach out to him soon regarding the final terms of the agreement
In defense of the deal
The promise of $5 million has prompted some critics to accuse STAR BioEnergy of paying to silence the opposition, with Rev. Cosby, activist Kathleen Parks, and STOMP (Standing Together Opposing Methane Plants) organizer Ray Barker being called out for taking part in the negotiations.
“I want to make it clear and make it plain that I still oppose the building of the methane plant in a residential area,” Parks said. “However, if it’s going to be built, then the residents of the California community and the residents of west Louisville deserve more than less.”
Parks referenced Dr. Martin Luther King, suggesting the opposition followed his lead by agitating STAR BioEnergy, demonstrating against the plant, and then negotiating with the company for a better outcome.
“I haven’t sold out, and I don’t plan to ever sell out my community, and I resent anyone implying that I have,” she said.
At today’s press conference, representatives of the West Louisville First Coalition asked the city, Heaven Hill and STAR BioEnergy to make good on its promises, with attendees chanting, “Do what you say you’re going to do.”
The Rev. Clay Calloway presented a list of a dozen demands, including that Mayor Fischer not attempt to control or reroute the $1 million in private funds Cosby and others claim was promised to Simmons.
The other nine demands trail off into somewhat unrelated matters such as the location of the Louisville V.A. Medical Center, a partnership between all Louisville colleges and universities, and for black elected officials to focus less on furthering the Democratic party and more on advocating for west Louisville. (Look below to see the full list.)
Calloway also responded to comments that the negotiation meeting was part of a secretive backroom deal by noting that representatives from the opposition, a reporter from the Louisville Defender and Metro Councilman David James (D-6) were in attendance.
Despite having multiple stakeholders, the meeting was not widely publicized.
Cosby argued that the meeting was inclusive, saying it was not his place to notify all residents and other media outlets.
“The mayor was well aware of what was going on,” he said. “The burden should not be exclusively on me to alert (people).”