Chicken waste? State agency spends $1.2 million with no results
It's a project that, on paper, promised to solve a major environmental concern in Oklahoma while generating electricity. That project got the green light more than a decade ago and cost taxpayers more than a million dollars in state and federal funds. To date, the taxpayers have seen no energy produced from the project and even the state agency funding the project can't seem to agree on how finished, or unfinished, it really is. It was dubbed, The Stamper Project; named for Ken Stamper, the inventor who patented the technology to turn poultry litter into energy and an environmentally friendly fertilizer. "We had good evidence that it was a very promising project, it is a pilot project that means there is some risk involved like there is in any industry," said Mike Thralls the man in charge of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, or OCC. The OCC awarded the taxpayer dollars to the project and has been working to make it a reality for the last ten years. The state has spent at least $1.2 million and many staff hours which include travel and other resources during the past decade. Fox 25 made multiple attempts to get an on-camera interview for the story and were denied each time so we went to the public meeting of the Conservation Commission to ask Thralls about what became of your investment. At first Thralls says the Stamper Project is, "Ongoing," but we pointed out that just a month prior in another public meeting official meeting minutes show Thralls told board members the project had been "idle for years." "Maybe it's better to say it is idle," Thralls told Fox 25, "There is a potential it could yet be completed." That potential is low since the man who owns the land and patented the technology has told the state he can no longer afford to work on it or devote hardly any time to completing it. "At this point I've put more money into the project than what anyone else has," Ken Stamper told Fox 25 by phone, "I can't continue to do that and survive. I just can't do it." Stamper said he is an optimist and believes the project could be successful based on small-scale tests in a laboratory. However the partner to the project went out of business and Stamper said he's been plagued with setbacks and delays from a variety of state agencies from the beginning of the project. "When the state tries to innovate, when the state tries to be the mechanism through which innovation occurs it just frequently messes things up and wastes taxpayer dollars," said State Representative Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie. Murphey told Fox 25 he looked into the Stamper Project a few years ago at the request of a constituent. Records obtained by Fox 25 include emails that show the OCC assured Murphey's office the project was approximately 90% complete and was ongoing. However at a recent public meeting the OCC employee in charge of the project told the board the project was just 80% complete. Stamper told Fox 25 it was only 75% finished. Thralls told Fox 25 the same, but when questioned he said the only completion was on constructing buildings on the property. There has still been no demonstration of large scale conversion of poultry litter to energy. The OCC has continued to devote staff time and resources to the project and other emails show the state is considering selling off the equipment purchased for the "ongoing" project to a company from Texas. It is a company that Stamper himself says won't be able to do anything more with the equipment than he has. "I would not pin my hopes on anything coming out of the company they've discussed with me," Stamper said. "As long as there is some hope that it [Stamper Project equipment] will be used for the original intention for which it was purchased we'll stay with the project," Thralls told Fox 25. However an email to that company shows the OCC is considering selling the equipment for "nominal" rates. The dictionary defines nominal as "far below the real cost or value." Thralls said we would have to ask an attorney for his definition of nominal. State Representative Murphey is concerned a quick sale of state property will end up costing taxpayers even more. "It's not a good situation, it's not a good habit, it's not good policy," Murphey said. Thralls said there is still hope the project will be able to take care of the poultry litter problem. But hope is all your $1.2 million has produced so far.