Janesville20.5°

Ethanol opponents air complaints at hearing

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Stacy Vogel
August 1, 2008
— The Department of Natural Resources had heard the complaints before.

DNR employees had taken calls from the same people or seen their names in the paper.


But Thursday, neighbors and opponents of the United Ethanol plant gathered at Milton City Hall to tell their stories in person before the DNR. About 50 residents and officials gathered for the DNR hearing.


The meeting technically concerned a permit request from the plant to install a new piece of equipment, but much of the talk centered around noise and odor complaints from the neighbors and the plant’s permit violations released by the DNR in June.


United Ethanol has asked for permission to install a new regenerative thermal oxidizer on its property at 1250 Chicago St., Milton. The company says the equipment will address some noise issues and resolve some of the violations listed in the DNR’s report.


But Leanne Glorvigen, who helped lead a lawsuit against the city over its dealings with the ethanol plant, said she distrusted the plant’s motives.


“Because the RTO will allow them to significantly increase production, they want to sell it as being a good neighbor,” she said.


The new equipment would allow the plant to increase its production from 42 million gallons a year to 55 million gallons, but the plant has a permit to produce up to 60 million gallons a year, United Ethanol spokeswoman Dori Lichty told The Janesville Gazette.


The plant also requested a permit for a slight increase in emissions, said Don Faith, DNR air permit engineer. DNR data indicates the increase would not affect air quality, he said.


But that wasn’t good enough for David Adams, Milton City Council member, who said he supported the request for the new equipment but not increased emissions.


“These folks are living with more than they need to live with right now,” he said. “They don’t need to live with any more.”


Speakers took the plant, the city and the DNR to task for the current state of affairs. They said the plant was going back on its promise to be a good neighbor and the DNR was taking too long to bring the plant into compliance.


Glorvigen said if the city hadn’t negotiated with the ethanol plant behind closed doors, the plant might never have been built in the first place.


But several of the plant neighbors just wanted to make sure the DNR heard—and took action on—what they had to say.


Gina Frank, who lives less than a half mile from the plant, said her children have developed allergies and her dogs have gotten sick since the plant moved in.


“We can’t take any more emissions than are there already,” she said. “We’re stuck. We can’t sell our house. We can’t leave. If there’s any more, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”


The DNR appreciates hearing from the residents, but it doesn’t have much latitude in deciding whether to grant the ethanol plant’s request, Faith said.


“We have to make our decisions based on whether the emissions from the plant and concentrations of the plant are compliant with air quality standards,” he said.


That appears to be the case. The DNR issued a preliminary recommendation to approve the permit when it announced the public hearing.


But Faith insisted the residents’ comments counted for something.


“There are still small decisions to be made in terms of the small details,” he said.


The DNR must issue a decision within 60 days of the close of the public comment period—Aug. 8—but Faith said he anticipated a decision earlier.


United Ethanol also appreciated the comments, Lichty said. Lichty and David Cramer, United Ethanol president and CEO, attended the meeting but did not comment.


“It was great to hear first-hand what they had to say,” Lichty said afterward. “We look forward to getting this permit passed and to get the new RTO up and get it working so we can help these people out. They obviously have legitimate concerns.”


TO COMMENT

The Department of Natural Resources still is accepting written comments about United Ethanol’s request to install a new regenerative thermal oxidizer and make other changes to its permit.


Comments can be sent through Friday, Aug. 8, to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Air Management, 101 S. Webster St., P.O. Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921, attn: Don C. Faith III.



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