A February 19, article published in The News titled “Eco-village: Progressive thinking or pipe dream” has sparked controversy and prompted accusations of a scam by Rep. Cezar McKnight.  On February 18, McKnight who represents House District 101 in the General Assembly, posted a social media video attacking the representatives involved in a proposed Ecovillage in Lane. He called out CETS Waste to Energy Inc., CEO Vincent White and Kerry Wilson, Program Management Executive for the Lane Eco-Village/Renewable Energy Project as liars and men who are taking advantage of citizens. “It is despicable for anybody to sit there and prey upon the hopes and dreams of desperate people and mislead them. It’s wrong,” said McKnight in a passionate plea to his followers.

McKnight chose to run the live feed after Wilson posted a copy of The News 2016 article where McKnight is in attendance yet, in the latest article stated he had no knowledge of the current project.

White has a vision to build a community from the ground up by bringing resources together through public/private partnership in a Global Carbon Emissions Reduction Program. The project will be spread over 10 years and include a gasification process to turn waste into energy. Waste will be transported from possibly 10 counties. Gasification process is a chemical reaction that breaks down solid waste molecules using extreme heat and minute amounts of air then recombines the molecules into syngas. Syngas, in turn can be used to make fuel, and other consumer products and generate electricity.

White is currently seeking investment partners for the project that will include high-tech farms, trade centers, and residential units in a village setting. According to an economic impact study by Chmura Economics and Analytics, the development and construction of Phase 1 of the eco-village will create jobs in construction and related industries in the Williamsburg County region. The total project development cost of this phase is estimated to be $300 million, including construction of buildings and soft costs such as design, engineering, and project management.  

The study goes on to state the annual indirect impact of $48.6 million and 182 jobs represent increased spending and employment for businesses in the region supporting eco-village operations. Examples are local landscaping companies hired to maintain the property, and regional suppliers of materials for manufacturing facilities. The annual induced impact of $44.9 million and 326 jobs are primarily the result of increased spending by local consumers who are working in the eco-village. Together, the total economic impact (direct, indirect, and induced) of Phase 1 of the eco-village operations is estimated to be $455.0 million, supporting 1,424 jobs per year in the Williamsburg region from 2022 onward. Total cost of the project over 10 years is $1.5 billion.

The study can be viewed online at https://townoflane.com/lane-eco-village.

During his video, McKnight called White and asked how the village would be financed, to which White said through green bonds. McKnight asked if he was licensed through the Securities Exchange Commission to sell the bonds. White responded, saying he is selling corporate securities put together by an investment banker. McKnight asked for the license number but White turned him down, saying “No you cannot because that’s not what we do.”

The following day, The News reached out to White. He said McKnight has put the cart before the horse. White said they are developers who create the projects, then hand them over to a third party who certifies the project as a carbon-neutral project. He admitted the reason behind such long delays (they pitched the idea in 2016) is a lack of participation. “I’ve been sitting down with Williamsburg County ever since 2016. I understand the change of hands, we sat down with them in August.” White said the info would be presented to council but they never got a call back for a second meeting. “Now we’re in to 2020 and we’re just going to move with the mayor (Fulton) and deal with the Eco village.”

White said first, they have to bring on board the ten counties to secure their waste. “Everything is based on waste within those ten counties,” said White, adding, “This is a carbon emission reduction. We’re trying to handle waste management first.” He’s looking at securing 720 metric tons of waste per day. Twenty-one megawatts stations will be placed around the county.

He said he’s talked with the economic developer in Clarendon and he talked with Williamsburg County Economic Development Director Gilleon Frieson

During his conversation with White, McKnight requested a Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) license and was turned down. “First and foremost CETS is a Developer of Net-Zero Infrastructure development projects that will be certified as a Green project that mean the requirements for a Corporate Green Bond issue. We have investment bankers like Morgan Stanley that serves as a broker deal that is licensed to file security notes with the SEC before selling to their clients. So this idea that a corporation selling it stocks or bonds have to be licensed with the SEC is not how it work.” When he was asked if he was scamming anyone White was surprised. “To do what? I’m financing this out of my own pocket,” he said. “Who am I scamming? Myself?” According to a report by Van Eck Securities Corporation, Distributor, Green bond issuance is expected to hit $250 billion this year.

The Town of Lane signed an Irrevocable Memorandum of Understanding. White said the gest of the memorandum is annexing the acreage into the city limits and become a public/private partnership. He said at present he is spending a lot of money and he doesn’t want to be throwing it in a black hole. “If I’m out here spending money I want to make sure I have a partner on the back end.” He added that if an infrastructure bill or Green bill ever passes, part of that federal requirement will create the public/private partnership and in turn provide access to grant money. “I am coming in as their private sector partner to be able to go after grants for infrastructure development, programs for training so forth and so on.”

White said he is pitching similar waste management projects in Maryland and New Jersey. “We’re trying to do 500 of these, but this is the first one, the pilot,” he said. White said In Maryland he is working at the state level, the Maryland Clean Energy Center and the bond finance director to control the state’s exporting of waste. “We’re trying to sit down and work a case study at the state level in stopping the flow leaving the state’s border.” In New Jersey he’s working with the Mayor of Newburg. He is scheduled to meet with their council March 23.

Kerry Wilson’s response to McKnight’s accusations was much more intense. In a prepared statement Wilson stated in part, “Regarding Cezar’s assertions that I am a scam artist. As you can see or should be able to determine, his accusations are flat out lies, slander, and border on the line of defamation, if not being defamation. Nothing that I have done nor anything that my team has done has taken away from anyone. The entire scope of our proposal is to create an environment where the citizens have an opportunity to help revitalize the deteriorating community by training for new opportunities, securing new opportunities that pay a good living wage, supporting initiatives to ensure that the environment is safe, neighborhoods are safe. As we all know, a financially sound community tends to be a safer, more educated, and progressive community. This is what we intend to help create.  We are not so arrogant to say that this is something we will create, but we say that we want to engage the community to help create this type of environment, because obviously, it does not exist at this point in time. In order for us to scam, or in his other words, “Take advantage of the community”, we have to be taking something away from them. Of course this is not the case. There has been nothing taken away from the community, at this point in the pre-development phase, we have only began to institute programs which are geared towards helping the community not only prepare for jobs that we plan to have, but also to be able to go out and secure jobs elsewhere.” Wilson is Program Management Executive for the Lane Eco-Village/Renewable Energy Project.

Wilson added he wishes to work with McKnight and the community. “We want to work with everyone and look at everything from all viewpoints, but when there are negative, unfounded, slanderous, and defamatory comments, without one ounce of truth nor proof of, made by a public official about a positive citizen of the community, it must be checked. Not out of anger, but out of fairness and the need for our public officials to be held to the standard that they were elected to uphold,” said Wilson.

In the meantime, McKnight said he is in contact with the Attorney General. “I hate to douse people’s hopes and dreams in Lane or surrounding areas because I’m from Salters and that would do me great if they were building a $1.5 billion plant,” McKnight said in his video. “But the truth of the matter is, ladies and gentlemen, they’re not. And anybody that tells you otherwise is lying.”