Tuesday, March 8


Residents say, 'Not in our backyard'

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[MARCH 8, 2005]  Some 75 concerned citizens showed up for a meeting Monday night at the West Lincoln Township building. They were there to gather information and have their voices heard concerning the proposed ethanol plant slated to be located in an area they called "their backyards."

Dan Meyer, a resident of Logan County, spoke briefly at the beginning of the meeting to introduce the subject and state what he felt were the concerns of the residents of the area. He said, "We're not against the ethanol plant, just against where they want to put it." He said that their objections began with concerns about the probability that their property values would decline when the ethanol plant located adjacent to their property.

In speaking with their friends and neighbors, the list of concerns grew to include safety, environment, noise, water consumption and the cost that county residents would bear as a result of the ethanol plant's construction and operation.

A committee of eight people formed to present the subject in a public forum: Dan and Marilyn Meyer, Ron and Sharon Pierce, Gary and Ruth Freeman, and Brad and Angie Sheley.

Meyer spoke for the committee, stating again that they were not against the ethanol plant, but that they had major reservations about what they and others would have to sacrifice for the 39 jobs that the ethanol plant would host.

Their main concerns were about the influences the proposed plant would exert on their homes and families. Meyer stated that according to the prospectus provided by Illini Bio-Energy, only 60 of the 240 acres of purchased land would be used for the construction and operation of the ethanol plant. What would the remaining acreage be used for? Would other industrial plants be able to locate on the remaining property without the right local citizens usually have to state objections during the rezoning process? Would there be safety concerns with trucks using Nicholson Road to access the plant? Would the plant spew out pollution and contaminants that would spoil the area?

Meyer stated that the group had done some research but had not found any information on ethanol plants that used coal to power the furnace to produce the ethanol, giving way to further concerns about the safety of this means of production.

Ethanol plants use a great deal of water to produce their end product, and Meyer expressed a concern that the plant would drain down the aquifer of water, rendering the wells of local residents dry.

Meyer stated that the citizens of Logan County would bear the cost of providing the infrastructure for the plant, since the Lincoln and Logan County Development Partnership agreed to present and recommend to the Logan County Board the abatement of property taxes to the level of farmland rates for the ethanol plant and the attached acreage. In addition, Meyer stated, the development partnership would also present and recommend the abatement of the county's portion of sales taxes on material purchased in Logan County for the construction of the plant and for the production of ethanol. Both of these abatements would be for a period of 10 years.

Meyer closed his portion of the program by stating that the thing that concerned the committee most was the closed nature of this deal to put the ethanol plant on Nicholson Road. "There has been no opportunity for citizens to object in the process," he said. "Ground may already be purchased. Things are being done quietly. We only get snippets." He concluded by calling concerned citizens to make their opinions known in county board meetings, in zoning commission meetings and in other public meetings that have bearing on the location of this plant. "We need to make our opinions known or we will have an ethanol plant in our backyard," he said. "We need to have a united front and be civilized about it."

Brian Wrage of Atlanta, a representative and member of the board of directors of Illini Bio-Energy, was on hand to make statements about the facility and its proposed impact on the area and to answer questions.

Wrage opened by stating that the property had not yet been purchased but was currently under contract from the Perry Land Trust. The proposed site of the ethanol plant is approximately where Camp-A-While is currently located. "Illini Bio-Energy was not interested in the whole 240-acre parcel, but it was the only way we could make the deal." The property needs to be rezoned industrial.

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"Why there?" Wrage asked. The key is rail access. Most of the product will be taken out by rail. And access to the CN railroad line would allow Illini Bio-Energy to save approximately $1 million a year on shipping. Burning coal instead of natural gas would enable them to save an additional $3 million a year. These two things would help the plant to be profitable sooner.

The market for ethanol is growing since the fuel additive MTBE is being outlawed on the East Coast. When MTBE is spilled, it has a great environmental impact, ruining wells and drinking water sources. "When you spill ethanol in a creek, you get drunk fish," Wrage said, comparing the ethanol product to the alcohol contained in beer. Ethanol produces a safe, clear flame when burned.

Wrage attempted to calm the crowd's environmental fears, stating that the ethanol product cannot escape from the plant. He said that everything would be done according to EPA specifications. The coal would be prewashed, and there would be adequate technology to deal with the grain dust. Lime would be used in the furnace, along with scrubber technology to take the sulfur out of the stack effluent from burning the coal. He added that the ethanol plant would have its own fire protection system and personnel.

The plant will not produce a discernible odor like the Decatur ADM or Staley plant. "We will not have that fermenting grain smell from the dryers," he said. All the odors from the process will be fed back into the furnace and be re-burned.

The ethanol plant has been designed to use 80 percent Western coal, 20 percent Illinois coal at startup. Illini Bio-Energy recently ran a test and determined that they can theoretically use all Illinois coal if there was the financial incentive to do that.

Ethanol is the biggest thing to hit agriculture in about 40 years. It enables farmers to have an alternative market for their corn. And the impact to the county would come from investors and consumers across the country. Money would be coming in from all over to enrich the county.

Wrage talked further about the physical changes that would have to be made to the area. He said that the hill on Nicholson Road would have to be shaved down. In addition to that, the board of Illini Bio-Energy has been talking to AmerenCILCO about increasing the size of the power substation on the corner of Nicholson and Route 66 to occupy about two acres of the ground in order to better serve their customers to the north.

Concerning the subject of water consumption, Wrage stated that the plant would consume some 350 to 700 gallons of water per minute. That water would never be discharged except as steam. The water would be produced from drilled wells or brought in by pipelines from other areas or purchased from Illinois American Water.

There are currently 35 dry-mill ethanol plants of this same design either in operation or in construction, including ones in similar residential areas such as Robinson in Illinois and West Burlington in Iowa. Among those plants, there are three currently under construction that will use coal to produce ethanol.

Wrage finished with an estimate that the plant would contribute some $300,000-$600,000 per year to the property tax coffers. At this point the meeting began to degenerate when a member of the audience said that amount would not even pay for the upkeep of the roads necessary to service the plant. Many other comments were offered by the audience, and toward the end, comments were quickly traded back and forth between Wrage and the audience in a heated fashion.

[Jim Youngquist]

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