A company that is negotiating with the state of Tennessee to mine for coal under public land has more than one link to the company largely owned by Gov. Bill Haslam and members of his family.
Hillsborough Resources Limited is negotiating with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to do mining work under Catoosa Wildlife Management Area, the 82,000-acre game-management area on the Cumberland Plateau.
The company drew scrutiny last month when it was disclosed that Tom Ingram, a consultant to Haslam, had failed to register as a lobbyist for the company.
Ingram has said the failure to register was an inadvertent oversight on the part of Marcelle Durham, president of The Ingram Group.
Ingram also does consulting work for Pilot Flying J, the Knoxville-based truck stop chain that is run by the governor's family.
Hillsborough also has another tie to Pilot.
Hillsborough is a subsidiary of Houston-based Vitol Inc., according to Vitol spokesman Don Goldberg. Vitol's president is Miguel Loya, a Houston businessman.
According to an annual report filed in February with the Kentucky Secretary of State's office, Loya was a "member" of Pilot Travel Centers LLC, also known as Pilot Flying J.
It's not clear if Loya still has an ownership stake in Pilot — the company has refused to fully identify its current owners — but Ingram confirmed that Loya serves on the board of Pilot.
Goldberg, the spokesman for Vitol, said there is "zero relationship" between that role and anything related to the Hillsborough proposal.
"I can tell you pretty directly there's no relationship between Mike's being on the board of (Pilot) Flying J and anything having to do with the state
or Crossville Coal or Hillsborough," he added.
Goldberg said in an email that Vitol Inc. is a subsidiary of Vitol Holding B.V., which is based in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and was founded 47 years ago.
He said Loya is one of approximately 350 shareholders in the Vitol holding company.
David Smith, a spokesman for Haslam, said in a voice mail that Loya's connection to Pilot doesn't have any influence on the state's decision-making in the Catoosa issue.
Smith said the governor has not discussed the Catoosa issue with officials from TWRA and has never met anyone from Vitol, Hillsborough or Crossville Coal.
Pilot was founded by the governor's father and is led by his older brother, Jimmy Haslam. The governor has no involvement in the daily management of the company.
According to a "right of entry" agreement negotiated with the state, Crossville Coal is an affiliate of Hillsborough Resources Limited. Crossville Coal was granted access to the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area to make borings, in an effort to determine whether coal is present.
That agreement stated that if sufficient coal was found, the state and Crossville Coal would negotiate an agreement to allow Crossville to do the mining work.
Sheryl Holtam, general counsel for TWRA, said she thinks the company has finished its exploration and that a private attorney hired by TWRA is negotiating a contract with Hillsborough's attorney.
She said negotiations began several months ago, but she didn't know when or if an agreement would come to fruition.
Ingram said Hillsborough already owned a mining operation adjacent to Catoosa, and said "they had the idea of mining" on the state-owned property.
Asked if Loya's connection to Pilot had any impact on Hillsborough's deal with the state, the consultant said: "Absolutely not."
Holtam, of TWRA, said in an email that Hillsborough approached the state. She noted that the company owns an adjacent tract to Catoosa and said it suspected that the coal didn't stop at the boundary line.
"They wanted to test and, if coal is found, enter into a contract to mine the coal from their own property, i.e., go under the state's property, thereby not disturbing the surface of the state property," she said. "To my knowledge, no other coal company is in the same position to be able to do this. There was no (request for proposals) issued.