Friday, August 24th, 2007
By Timothy Cox
Ethanol hearing draws opposition
Grand Lake area residents weighed in with a number of concerns about a proposed ethanol plant during an Ohio EPA public hearing Thursday in Celina.
A standing-room-only crowd packed the conference room of the Mercer County Central Services Building, where they peppered EPA officials with a variety of questions and concerns that were recorded by a court reporter. Residents' concerns will be weighed as EPA officials decide whether to issue the project wastewater discharge and air quality permits. More than 100 people attended the meeting.
Many of the most common concerns, though, fell outside the EPA's scope in its consideration of the wastewater and air permits. Issues involving ground water, the popularity of the proposed site, potential effects on property values all cannot be considered by EPA officials in determining licensure of the facility, but were still mentioned frequently by residents.
EPA officials also cannot consider an applicant's past compliance history, local zoning, increases in traffic volume, the personal or professional backgrounds of the applicants, flooding or ditch maintenance, or labor issues, the EPA's Jan Tredway told the crowd.
"That authority rests with other agencies," Tredway said.
The project is being put together by Mercer Energy, a group of area farmers and businessmen. They plan a $125 million hydro-milling ethanol facility that would employ about 50 workers. The proposed plant would produce 50 million gallons of ethanol and 164,000 tons of feed and feed products annually.
The site for the plant is at 7064 Four Turkey Road, near state Route 29 between Celina and St. Marys.
For the wastewater permit, EPA officials have set a limit of 880,000 gallons daily that would be released into Grand Lake every day. "Non-contact cooling water" and other non-process wastewater would be the only water that could be discharged to the lake, the EPA's Michelle Sharp said. Regular sewer effluent would be piped to Celina for treatment.
The discharge into the lake was the top concern among residents, along with the protection of the underground water source, which EPA officials can't consider.
"Why allow any discharge into a lake as bad as ours?" resident Theresa Howick asked.
"How will the effluent alleviate problems in the lake?" resident Gerald Conover asked. Mercer Energy officials have said the discharge water will be cleaner than the existing lake water.
Sharp said the discharge won't help the lake but also won't make it's problems worse. Other residents noted, though, that EPA officials have offered conflicting statements in the past about whether the plant's wastewater would further degrade the lake.
Resident Doug Giesige asked about leak containment and the potential contamination of the ground water supply.
Sharp said the company will be required to have disaster plans in place that would contain any spills before ethanol or any other product reaches the underground water supply.
Chuck Lynn asked about "environmental safeguards" and criticized the EPA for "divorcing" itself from ground water and other critical issues.
Tredway responded that the EPA permits themselves are safeguards to the public because of all the requirements.
Potential odors also are a common concern. Residents complained they have no way of knowing exactly what the plant will smell like because it will be using newer technology. Tredway said in his experience, odors are contained to the plant site.
Other residents pressed him for answers about what would happen if odors do become a problem. EPA officials said it would be dealt with but could offer no definitive timelines.
"Odor can be a tough one to deal with," Tredway said, noting there is a wide range in what people find to be annoying smells.
Mercer Energy officials have said a smell like popcorn will be present on-site, but said it shouldn't permeate the surrounding area.
The air quality permit sets limits of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, particulates, sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds that can be released into the air. The agency also requires certain equipment to reduce emissions and sets up ongoing monitoring requirements.
A thermal oxidizer would be used to reduce emissions during the drying and grain separation processes. A piece of equipment called a flare would control dust and other emissions during unloading of corn from trucks and trains. A baghouse - essentially a giant vacuum - would control dust and particulates during other processing and wet air scrubbers would be used to control emissions from the distillation and fermentation process.
Residents still can weigh in on the EPA permits with written comments through Aug. 30. Agency officials then will decide whether Mercer Energy gets its permits. Any decision can be appealed to the Environmental Review Appeals Commission.
During a meeting with EPA Director Chris Korleski earlier in the day, Mercer County Commissioner Bob Nuding said the ethanol project has broad general support from the public and local governments. The project suffers, though, from a "NIMBY" - or "not in my back yard" - attitude among some residents, Nuding said.
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