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Logan County citizens continue opposition to ethanol plant location

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[MARCH 18, 2005]  The CCLC, an organization of Logan County citizens who are concerned about the proposed Nicholson Road location for the ethanol plant, met again Thursday evening at the West Lincoln Township building. A tense crowd of about 70 people showed up to listen to the issues, ask questions and contribute their opinions. Dozens of issues were stated by various members of the panel and audience.

That audience included Logan County Board members Dick Logan and Pat O'Neill, Lincoln mayoral candidate Tom O'Donohue, and several representatives from Illini Bio-Energy.

Dan Meyer, one of the founding members of Concerned Citizens of Logan County, addressed the audience and started off the meeting, welcoming the crowd and the special guests. He explained that the mission of the CCLC was to make Logan County residents aware of location, proximity, dangers and risks of the ethanol plant at the proposed Nicholson Road site.

Meyer revised the estimate of acreage that Illini Bio-Energy would acquire in order to build the plant from the 240 mentioned at the last meeting to approximately 207 to 217 acres. He described the property in question as the rectangle of land north of Route 66, to the south of the monopole cell tower, bordered by 1200th Avenue on the west and 1250th Avenue (Nicholson Road) on the east.

Reiterating their list of concerns from the previous meeting, Meyer stated that the CCLC was concerned about the usage of the remaining acreage. With the property rezoned industrial, Illini Bio-Energy could do anything they wanted in the future with remaining acreage. They could build another ethanol plant or invite other dangerous industry to situate there without the community's ability to have input.

Meyer stated that the CCLC was only repeating facts given to them by Illini Bio-Energy, the Logan County Board, various legal and environmental experts, and facts they had collected about similar facilities from the Internet. He said their current job was to sort out the facts from rumors and hearsay.

Meyer questioned the ability of local elected leaders to decide about the location of the ethanol plant in an unbiased manner, accusing some elected officials of being biased in this process because they were either investors or the relatives of investors in Illini Bio-Energy.

Meyer had questions for Illini Bio-Energy as well. How high will the stack be? Had Illini Bio-Energy considered the traffic their plant would produce, the safety of the surrounding community, the impact on schools, and proximity to colleges and nursing homes? Was it true that the list of chemicals that would be on the site included propane, coal, ethanol, lime, and other dangerous and flammable products?

Meyer turned the meeting over to CCLC founding member Ruth Freeman, who encouraged concerned individuals to write letters to Brad Frost of the EPA to express their concerns. Frost promised to respond to each individual's questions and concerns. Pre-addressed standard letters addressed to Frost were available at the meeting.

Freeman stated that the CCLC was currently examining contracts for other similar ethanol plants in order to discover information that might increase their knowledge of the construction and operation of the proposed Lincoln plant. Freeman ended her statement by urging the crowd to write letters to the editor stating their opinion and opposition to the plant.

Sharon Pierce, another founding member, told the audience that the group's research had uncovered the need for a 2-mile evacuation zone for this type of facility because of the dangerous chemicals stored on the site and the threat of fire and explosion. She said the proposed Lincoln ethanol plant would be much like an ethanol plant in Heron Lake, Minn. That facility produced 55,000 gallons of ethanol a day, while the Lincoln plant would likely produce 50,000 gallons.

Pierce said the stack at Heron Lake was about 150 feet tall, and she expressed concerns for the effect a 150-foot-tall stack would have on local aviation. She stated that the plant in Minnesota uses the city sewer system for the discharge of wastewater from the plant. "Where would the Lincoln plant discharge its wastewater?" she asked. Documents they had uncovered on the Internet detailed that an ethanol plant this size would likely discharge about 172,000 gallons of 80- to 85-degree water per day.

Pierce stated that they had serious concerns about the storage tanks that would be located on the site, holding as much as 1 million gallons of ethanol at a time, and questioned whether gasoline would also be stored on that site.

She called attention to the fact that no fence was currently planned to protect the plant from intruders or terrorists or to protect innocent children from the dangers of the plant.

Heron Lake is a town of 3,000 people, and the plant is located about a mile from town. The proposed Lincoln facility would be located within less than one-half mile from a school, a college, a nursing home and directly adjacent to a population of approximately 16,000 residents.

Pierce asked whether Illini Bio-Energy had considered the threat of mercury poisoning from the Western coal. She also questioned how the 1 to 2 tons of fly ash the plant would produce each hour of production would be handled. "Where would the fly ash be stored?" she said. Would it contribute to groundwater poisoning because of the leachate from the fly ash storage?

Pierce stated that at the last meeting Illini Bio-Energy had discussed that more than 100 trucks per day would be coming and going each day to service the needs of the ethanol plant. Did Illini Bio-Energy know that Nicholson Road and Route 66 was already a dangerous intersection? "People have died at that intersection," Pierce stated.

Frank Rickord, a neighbor from 1235th Avenue, spoke next about his research on the water needs of the proposed ethanol plant. He reiterated that Illini Bio-Energy had stated at the last meeting that they would get the 700,000 gallons of water they needed each day from Illinois American Water, wells that they drilled, a pipeline that would deliver water from some other area or a combination of these sources.

Rickord stated that in talking with the city water company, he learned that they currently do not have the production to supply the ethanol plant. A new well has recently been drilled east of town but is not yet in production. Some $2 million to $3 million would be necessary to bring production up to the level needed to supply the ethanol plant, and apart from funding, would not be ready for some time.

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The two local prisons together use about 1 million gallons of water a day. Illinois American Water supplies the prisons at a cost of about $60,000 a month.

Rickord said these facts led him to the conclusion that Illini Bio-Energy would probably choose to sink their own deep wells to produce enough low-cost water for ethanol on that site, and those deep wells would endanger the water supply to every shallow well of every residence north of Lincoln city limits.

Brian Wrage, a spokesman and board member for Illini Bio-Energy, then took over the meeting. He opened with the statement that those who live in Epperson Addition on Nicholson Road would never see the plant, hear it or smell it. The audience came alive at that suggestion, expressing their doubts and remarking that they could hear the race cars at the Logan County Fairgrounds on Sunday nights in town.

Meyer also revised their understanding of where the ethanol plant would be constructed on the 207-acre plot. He was told by a source unrelated to Illini Bio-Energy that the plant would be built right at corner of Nicholson and Route 66, raising new concerns about the plant's closer proximity to schools and hazards to traffic.

As it turns out, maps show that portion of the acreage to be all undermined and not suitable to build on. Wrage said the Nicholson Road site might not work out because of undermining issues.

Wrage said the proposed stack height would be 125 feet. He said the plant would not be located at the intersection of Route 66 and Nicholson Road. "That area is all undermined by coal mines," he said. The ethanol plant would be located at the south edge of Camp-A-While, about two-tenths of a mile from Kruger Road. The actual size of the ethanol acreage would be about one-fourth square mile (40 acres). The entire facility would likely take up about 60 acres, including tank farm, storage and the railroad spur.

Wrage downplayed the safety concerns that were being expressed. All the storage tanks would be diked. The company had considered the safe distance issues and had concluded that the plant exceeded the necessary safety zones. Water discharge from the plant would not be an ecological issue. Water used in the fermentation process would never leave the plant. The plant would discharge about 100 gallons of cooling water per minute. This water would leave the grounds after first cooling and evaporating in the retention pond and would be discharged into Brainard's Branch. The ethanol plant currently producing in Burlington, Iowa, had no cooling discharge because that water evaporated in the retention pond.

An unnamed man in the audience, identifying himself as an Eaton employee who often works with Eaton's wastewater treatment, spoke up and asked if the ethanol plant would line the retention pond to prevent concentrated metals from the coolant water going back into ground and contaminating area wells. Wrage answered that he did not know if the pond would be lined.

Wrage stated that the sanitary water from the plant would be discharged into the plant's own septic system. He said that all fly ash would be collected and stored inside a concrete building prior to being shipped back to Turris Coal in Elkhart. He estimated about three loads of fly ash a day would go back to the local mine for disposal. "Fly ash is often used to extend concrete," he said.

Anhydrous ammonia, injected directly into the furnace, would be used in the scrubbers.

Grain trucks would pull loads into the plant five days a week. The plant would produce on two shifts. Employees wouldn't be there in the middle of the night.

Regarding the fence issue, Wrage stated that some of the investors think the fence is a good idea.

A member of the crowd asked about the future of such a plant in light of changing fuels and alternative energy. Wrage stated that fuel cell automobiles were probably the next big thing, and ethanol is used to produce the hydrogen for fuel cells. "Ethanol plants have a great future ahead," he said.

Illini Bio-Energy, at its own cost, would supply the required hazmat equipment for the community fire departments to use to fight any spills or contain any fires at the plant. Wrage reassured the crowd that ethanol is not an explosive product. A member of the audience mentioned that according to the prospectus there would be a 30,000-gallon propane tank on the site, and propane is very explosive. In addition to the hazmat equipment, Illini Bio-Energy will write the disaster plan for the community at the company's cost.

Wrage addressed the financial incentive to the county, stating that Illini Bio-Energy "will be paying taxes for decades." A member of the audience questioned the short-term financial burden the plant would place on the taxpayers of Logan County because the plant would receive a tax abatement for the first 10 years.

Dick Logan, a member of the Logan County Board, questioned why the ethanol plant didn't locate in Elkhart. He said the Elkhart people had invited the plant to situate there with open arms. Responding, Wrage said that the costs of using the adjacent railroad drove them away at Elkhart and that the Nicholson Road site allowed greater tax savings over a longer period than the enterprise zone at Elkhart would provide.

The CCLC maintains a website at www.lincolnethanol.com. There you can obtain the list of issues, a list of contacts and telephone numbers, sign the petition, and sign up to be a volunteer in their drive to keep the ethanol plant from locating on Nicholson Road.

Information about Illini Bio-Energy and the proposed ethanol plant can be obtained on their website at www.illinibioenergy.com.

[Jim Youngquist]

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