By Timothy Cox
Any possibility of Mercer County officials building a water plant to serve eastern Jefferson Township is on hold until the developers of a proposed ethanol plant in the same area decide whether they will follow through with their plans.
Eastern Jefferson Township residents and businesses now are served by a water system that is an extension of the city of Celina's distribution system. The city supplies the water, and the county maintains the pipes.
County officials had begun preliminary investigation of the cost to build a plant to serve the area and upgrade some existing pipes that are aging. Even though those estimates are finished, planning will go no further, county commissioners said last week.
Many residents in the area east of Celina's corporation limit for years have expressed interest in the area having its own water service. Not only do some residents near aging water mains periodically see rust in their water, they also get high trihalomethane (THM) exposure from the city water.
THMs are byproducts of the chlorination process that some studies indicate can be harmful over long periods of time. The city is studying the possibility of building a new treatment plant, and possibly find a new source of water instead of drawing water from Grand Lake. With the uncertainty over the ethanol plant, the project cannot proceed any further, Mercer County Commissioners said during a recent meeting with engineer Craig Mescher of Fanning/Howey Associates, Celina. If an ethanol plant is to be built along the state Route 29 corridor, it would vastly alter plans for water service, they said.
With so many variables to consider, a wait-and-see approach is best for now, Commissioner Jerry Laffin said.
Early estimates show it would cost about $3 million to build a small, 250,000-gallon water treatment facility and accompanying 500,000-gallon water tower. The estimate also includes improvements to water lines. Such a facility could serve eastern Jefferson Township as it exists today, Mescher told commissioners.
If an ethanol plant is built, the price balloons to $10 million-$12 million, Mescher's estimates show. The plant presumably would bear most of those costs through direct assistance with construction and/or through the water rates it would pay. The estimate calls for a 2.3 million-gallon treatment plant and 2.5 million-gallon water tower along with water line improvements.
It is also uncertain, commissioners and Mescher said, how much treated water an ethanol plant might require. They believe a plant likely could use some raw water straight out of its own wells.
It has been more than a year since officials from Ohio Corn Processors Inc., a group of 14 West Central Ohio farmers, talked publicly about their plans to build a wet-milling ethanol plant in the area. The group has declined recent interview requests by The Daily Standard.
The ethanol venture is believed to be in a fund-raising stage as the group gathers investors for what was pitched in March 2004 as a $250 million project. Mercer County Community Development Director Larry Stelzer has confirmed the start-up company still is working toward its goal of building a plant.
The Daily Standard newsroom has fielded numerous requests from prospective investors and representatives of large companies seeking to contact Ohio Corn Processors officials in recent months.
When the group detailed its preliminary plans 15 months ago, the project called for the facility to be built on 80 acres of land. Experts who spoke at that public meeting said the proposed plant would process about 35 million bushels of corn annually. That corn would be processed into 100 million gallons of ethanol -- alcohol that can be blended with gasoline -- food-grade carbon dioxide, corn gluten cattle feed and corn germ that would be sold raw to other processors.
The plant -- as proposed then -- would need 2 million gallons of water daily, the experts said.
The proposed plant would employ 50-80 people on-site, create as many as 500 temporary jobs during the two-year construction phase and likely spawn related businesses in the community, they said.