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Shawnees' greenhouse plan has the potential to take root



Published: Wed, August 24, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



A proposal by the Eastern Shawnee Indian tribe to build a massive hydroponics greenhouse complex in Lordstown holds promise for success and growth.

Those pursuing the estimated $19 million project, however, must guarantee that it remains a completely separate entity from the Shawnees' not-so-promising delusion to build a massive casino and gaming resort in the village.

The Oklahoma-based Shawnees have an option to buy 137 acres northeast of the Ohio Turnpike and state Route 45 in Lordstown and Jackson Township. The commercial greenhouse complex would be built on 25 acres at the southern end of the village. It's part of the same site where the tribe is proposing to construct a $125 million to $250 million casino resort.

Lordstown, Trumbull County and Shawnee representatives have begun very preliminary talks on the project. Greentex, a Belgium-based manufacturer of commercial greenhouses, has also been represented at those talks.

Potential to succeed

At first glance, the proposal merits serious attention. The greenhouses would be designed to produce tomatoes, peppers, strawberries and flowers, all high-demand consumer staples. The proposal's premise mirrors current health-conscious trends that favor naturally produced food with no use of pesticides. Hydroponic growing uses nutrient-filled solutions, not soil. Hydroponic farming has taken off well in Europe and is growing in popularity in the United States as well.

In addition, the proposed steel and glass greenhouses would reap economic benefits for the Mahoning Valley. Lordstown Mayor Michael Chaffee, involved in the preliminary talks, said 80 to 100 workers would be employed at the greenhouses that would generate an estimated annual payroll of $2 million to $2.5 million.

Of course, that economic impact pales in comparison to that of the proposed casino and gaming resort the tribe envisions. But unlike the gaming proposal, the greenhouse complex is firmly grounded in reality.

The casino plan faces insurmountable hurdles. Most importantly, a fundamental change in state law to make casino gambling legal would be required, a change that few of the state's movers and shakers seem ready to embrace. In fact, most vociferously oppose the idea.

Focus on greenhouse

That's why it's critical not to allow the greenhouse proposal to serve as any kind of precursor or bargaining chip -- formally or informally -- for establishment of a casino in the village.

For now, much more work and study must be focused exclusively on questions the greenhouse project raises. Does Greentex, which would build the facility, have a reputable track record? Would the potentially higher consumer costs of hydroponic fruit and vegetables be worth the investment? What type of financing plan would work most feasibly for construction of the facility?

These and other questions must be researched and answered before the first shovel full of dirt is turned for the project. One question that need not be pondered or debated, however, is the viability of a greenhouse-casino mix on the Shawnee property in Trumbull County.

Ohio leaders have let it be known loudly and clearly that commercial gaming is not in the cards for the Buckeye State.




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