Thursday, December 20th, 2007
By Janie Southard
Board will consider ethanol plant height
  The county board of zoning appeals meets next week to discuss a height variance requested by Mercer Energy necessary for construction of an ethanol plant east of Celina.
Current plans call for at least 11 structures exceeding the county's 45-foot height cap, some as high as 140 feet.
The appeals board will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Central Services Building auditorium at the corner of Livingston and Sugar streets.
Several months ago Mercer Energy, comprised of a group of local farmers and businessmen wanting to build the ethanol plant between Celina and St. Marys, filed a zoning variance to permit structures at the site be over 45 feet tall.
Former County Zoning Inspector Brice Blair rejected the permit application due to a lack of information enclosed, namely the print of the proposed plans was too small to make a determination, he said. The larger print sent later showed several proposed structures exceeded the 45-foot height cap permitted in East Jefferson Township.
After Blair rejected the variance, Mercer Energy filed an appeal with the county appeals board, which will discuss the application Dec. 27.
Since the initial permit application, Blair retired as zoning inspector for personal reasons and due to his opposition to the ethanol plant. Mercer County commissioners then appointed Pat Elking to replace him. Elking is a retired Mercer County detective who lives in St. Henry and commissioners feel he is removed from the local ethanol debates.
Armed with Ohio EPA approval for construction and operation of the plant, Mercer Energy plans to begin construction of the $125 million hydro-milling ethanol facility in 2008. Completion is expected in 18 months. The plant will employ about 50 on-site employees and up to 300 spin-off jobs from the area during construction and operations, Mercer Energy officials have said.
At least two citizen groups are actively opposing the location of the plant, which is on Four Turkey Road, a mile or so north of Grand Lake.
One of the groups, Protectors of Air and Water Sources (PAWS) of Findlay, is most concerned about air pollution and the plant's wastewater discharge into Grand Lake.
PAWS, through its attorney David C. Breidenbach of Findlay, has filed an appeal with the Environmental Appeals Review Commission challenging Ohio EPA's issuance of permits to build the local plant.
The second group, Citizens Acting Responsibly for the Environment (CARE), presented Mercer County commissioners with a petition signed by 255 local residents also concerned about the amount of wastewater to be dumped into Grand Lake.
Dec. 27th's zoning appeals meeting can result in one of four situations: Board approval of the height variance; board denial of variance; board approval of variance with specified modifications; or the board will require more information before making a decision.
If approved or denied, any disappointed party has 20 days to file action with the Mercer County Court of Common Pleas, according to Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Andy Hinders. Should the variance be approved, construction could begin at anytime, even if an opposition group files with the court.
The current five-member East Jefferson Township zoning board of appeals includes the following: Jay Frysinger, Johnny Dicke, Larry Hawk, Joe Pecharich and Don Vanderhorst. Alternates are James Schneible and David Knous. All men reside in Celina.

If you go:
What: Mercer County Board of Zoning Appeals meeting
When: 6 p.m. Dec.27
Where: Central Services Building auditorium, Celina
Why: To discuss a variance for the Mercer Energy ethanol plant that would allow structures to be built over 45-feet tall, some as high as 140 feet.
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