Friday, April 22


Residents battle proposed ethanol plant location       Send a link to a friend

[APRIL 22, 2005]  On Thursday 45 people attended a Concerned Citizens of Logan County meeting at the West Lincoln Township building at 7 p.m. This group was founded to oppose the location of the proposed ethanol plant just north of Lincoln, a plant they say won't be a good neighbor.

Dan Meyer, spokesman for the group, opened the meeting, saying, "This train is coming down the tracks. We need to be ready. We need to keep going, keep motivated and state the facts."

A wide variety of issues related to the proposed ethanol plant were openly discussed, sharing the information that had been collected since the last meeting. Statements were made by a variety of people from the audience as well as the organizers.

Meyer began with a list of facts and observations, stating that Illini Bio-Energy has collected $25.2 million to date, short of its $40 million goal. "They will probably open it up as an LLC," he stated, a method they believe Illini Bio-Energy will use to bring in the rest of the needed funds from outside sources, which will compromise the promises made to the community.

Meyer stated that, among other promises made to the community, Illini Bio-Energy was now promising an increase of only 5 cents a bushel to area farmers, down from the previous 10 cents. "Their story changes at every turn," he said.

The CCLC has mounted a petition drive in Logan County to collect the signatures needed to support their opposition. To date they have collected about 300 signatures. A recent petition drive at the Lincoln Wal-Mart last week netted only 15 signatures in a three-hour period. CCLC workers at that location were disappointed by the lack of interest and concern on the part of Lincoln citizens. They said that many Lincoln citizens appeared too busy to take an interest in preventing the ethanol plant from being built on the proposed location.

Comments were made about a recently televised interview on CITV Channel 5 with Brian Wrage, a spokesman and board member of Illini Bio-Energy. They said that Wrage quoted Dan Fulscher, director of Logan County ESDA, as saying in the interview that ESDA "has no problems with the facility or the location." When asked about Wrage's statement, Fulscher denied stating it exactly that way. They said that Fulscher will appear on CITV Channel 5 to state the facts, an interview which is not yet scheduled.

Meyer repeatedly stated that Illini Bio-Energy seemed to go back and forth on their facts.

Meyer and the founders turned the meeting to the homeland security issue, presenting that the ethanol plant would be a great risk to the community because of the chemicals stored and produced there. They were greatly concerned that neither the EPA nor ESDA would be in charge of determining if there should be a mandatory evacuation due to a threat or an accident. They were told that Lincoln Rural Fire Department will be determining if an evacuation should be in effect.

Members of the CCLC expressed some relief that the water authority had passed a measure to protect the area water supply. If the water table fell below a certain predetermined level, the water authority would stop Illini Bio-Energy from pulling water from the Mahomet aquifer. This measure, they said, would force Illini Bio to drill test wells and test the ability of the aquifer to provide the amounts of water necessary to run the plant over a period of time. They will have to get specific permission to pump after that test, based on the results.

The CCLC expressed dismay over the rules that prevent the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency from acting on their behalf to prevent the plant from locating at the proposed site. The Illinois EPA, they said, is not allowed to consider "quality of life" issues in issuing permits. This means that the IEPA cannot prevent a permit from being issued even if the proposed facility changes the air, noise, water, safety or any other environmental factor in a community, as long as those changes are within their predetermined guidelines.

"The Illinois EPA will not help us," an audience member said. Nor will the Illinois EPA continuously monitor the plant. IEPA will act only if there is a complaint. Regular monitoring happens only if airborne emissions exceed 100 tons, a figure Illini Bio has been careful to stay below in their presentations and their prospectus.

It was pointed out at the meeting that the Illinois EPA could prevent the issuing of permits if there are geological faults in the area. The question was raised at the meeting if the existing coal mines could be considered geologic faults.

The CCLC has retained attorney Fred Roth to do the legal work necessary to prevent the ethanol plant from locating in their front yards. Roth is currently drafting of a letter of protest on the proposed zoning change of that property. The letter should have signatures of people with adjoining properties. This letter, explained Roth, will be effective throughout the process. Meyer said Roth will draw the information right out of Illini Bio's prospectus, "information scary enough to scare the hair right off your head." After the letter is finished and signatures are applied, the letter will be submitted to County Clerk Sally Litterly.

The topic then turned to the last county board meeting, at which Logan County State's Attorney Tim Huyett stated that he can give an opinion on some issues, but the Logan County Board can do what they please. His legal authority can act only after the fact to present a legal challenge to their decisions. It was remarked that anybody on the county board with grain to market is in conflict of interest.

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One of the major concerns that started the CCLC on their quest to prevent the ethanol plant from locating at that site was their fear that the ethanol plant would make their property values fall. At this meeting it was discussed that Sarah Wilcox of Illini Bio had recently stated that realtors in a Wisconsin town where an ethanol plant had been built said the plant had not caused property values to fall and that the ethanol plant was in fact very good for business.

A member of the CCLC audience said that anything which causes real estate to turn is good for a real estate firm's business. Meyer said that a 125-foot stack with emissions will certainly affect the value of homes in that area and would cause people to move away.

At the meeting the CCLC presented what was perhaps their most powerful argument against locating the plant at the proposed site. They talked about an ethanol plant located in Galena that came to town and proposed exactly the same things that Illini Bio is promising: You won't see us, or smell us or hear us. The residents of Galena allowed the ethanol plant to be built based on those promises. That ethanol company skimped on the construction of that plant, eliminating the most important part, the thermal oxidizer. That plant produced an incredible odor from the fermenting grain and was very noisy.

The community took them to federal court, and the court ordered them to install the $2 million thermal oxidizing equipment. Members of that community have testified that even after adding that equipment, they can still smell it and hear it. Members of the audience at the CCLC meeting testified that the odor problem comes not in processing but in moving the processed components from the plant.

The CCLC believes that Illini Bio is understating most of their environmental facts just to get the plant built. Brian Wrage of Illini Bio-Energy stated at previous meetings that there will be 100 trucks a day delivering materials to and from the plant. He has compared that number to the trucks coming and going from Cutler-Hammer each day. The CCLC questioned guards at Cutler-Hammer, who have stated that there are only 50-55 trucks per day at that facility.

In addition to the grain traffic to and from the ethanol plant, Illini Bio is now stating that all the coal will come in by truck and that the percentages of coal are changed to 80 percent local and 20 percent Western. It was previously stated that Illini Bio would ship the coal via rail. The CCLC board does not think that Illini Bio is including these coal trucks in their 100-truck-per-day estimate. In addition to emissions from the plant, the community should consider the emissions and safety concerns from this amount of semitrailer traffic.

A member of the audience said that he checked with officials at Turris Coal to see if there was an adequate coal supply for the plant. Turris said their supply would last at least through the year 2024.

Cozette Reichle, a neighbor in Epperson Addition, recommended that members of the CCLC board make their own appearance on CITV Channel 5 to convince the people in town that Illini Bio won't be a good neighbor. Various members of the audience stated that people in town don't seem to understand the issues and misunderstand what the ethanol plant will bring to the area in jobs. The reality, Meyer stated, is that the plant will bring eight management jobs earning good money, and the rest will be $8-$10 per hour.

Further comments were made by the audience that, according to the prospectus, there won't be any construction jobs for Logan County residents in the building of the plant. Fagan, the construction company, will bring everything in, including the building materials, from their own outside sources.

County board member Pat O'Neill stated that Fagan would be using nonunion workers to build the plant, claiming that nonunion workers would increase the danger of safety issues at the plant.

As the meeting came to an end, Meyer summarized that at $96 million, this will be the most expensive ethanol plant ever built. All they ask is that this plant be built somewhere else.

[Jim Youngquist]

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