ST. LOUIS - The plant was supposed to open by summer's end, employing four dozen people.
It might not have been the most appealing work: butchering hundreds of horses each day to fill dinner plates in Europe. But Rockville, population 166, needed jobs. So residents had embraced turning a defunct beef processing plant into the nation's first horse slaughter facility since 2006.
"The whole town is for it," proclaimed Mayor David Moore in June.
Now it looks like horse meat won't be the town's salvation, at least not anytime soon.
It could take months for a judge to resolve all the questions surrounding the plant's ownership. And that seems to be the least of the problems facing the horse slaughter industry in Missouri and nationwide.
The business of slaughtering horses for human consumption could be legislatively abolished before it has the chance to revive itself.
Congress effectively banned the practice in 2006 by cutting funding for USDA inspections of horse meat. Then late last year, it restored the funding, making horse slaughter legal again.
Congresswoman Sue Wallis, the nation's most visible horse slaughter proponent, announced plans for the Rockville plant in June.
It was her second attempt in less than a year to bring a slaughter house to Missouri. But Wallis hadn't yet purchased the plant.
When Cynthia MacPherson, a lawyer in Mountain Grove, Mo., heard about Wallis' plans, she looked into the plant and found a series of shell corporations and unusual transfers of the property. MacPherson tracked down one of the plant's creditors and sued on his behalf, asking a judge to block any sale of the plant until her client was repaid.
MacPherson had played a large role earlier this year in thwarting plans to open a slaughter house near Mountain Grove. MacPherson closed her law practice for six weeks to rally opposition. She created web pages and delivered fervent pleas to the city council.
Wallis eventually abandoned the Mountain Grove proposal, only to announce a few weeks later plans for the facility in Rockville, about 90 miles south of Kansas City.
In an interview in June, Wallis said she targeted Missouri because of its location.
"If you draw a 500-mile circle around Southwest Missouri, you enclose more than 30 percent of the horses in the United States," Wallis said.
Neither Wallis nor her Missouri business partner, lawyer Dan Erdel of Mexico, Mo., returned phone messages seeking comment about the most recent questions surrounding the plant.
In recent weeks, Wallis has announced plans for another facility in eastern Oklahoma.
But her chances there also appear dim. For example, it's unclear how she would circumvent an Oklahoma law that prohibits horses from being slaughtered for human consumption.
Wallis' critics contend she's merely using the announcements as a way to promote horse slaughter.
"She does that all the time," said Valerie Misita Pringle, an equine protection specialist with the Humane Society of the United States. "I think she is trying to promote the idea that these horse slaughtering plants are inevitable."
For its part, the USDA has said it can't begin inspecting horse slaughter plants until the end of the year.