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DNR grants ethanol plant's request

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Stacy Vogel
August 27, 2008
— A new piece of equipment for a Milton ethanol plant could be a chance for the plant to resolve its issues, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday.

The DNR approved a permit request for United Ethanol, 1250 Chicago St., Milton, to install a new regenerative thermal oxidizer in a letter dated Thursday.


United Ethanol believes a new, larger oxidizer will address emissions, noise and odor complaints, and the DNR hopes so, too.


“It is a big step forward to get this (permit) out the door, and it is an opportunity for United Ethanol to start fresh,” said Eileen Pierce, DNR regional air and waste leader.


The DNR called the ethanol plant a “high-priority violation” in a June report that identified more than 170 permit violations at the plant. The report concluded, among other things, that the plant didn’t install the proper pollution control devices before starting operations.


United Ethanol replied that many of the alleged permit violations either didn’t apply to the plant or were resolved before the report’s release. Still, complaints from neighbors about the plant’s smell, noise and pollution have dogged the company since it started making ethanol last March.


Plant officials believe the new oxidizer will address most of those issues, said Dori Lichty, a United Ethanol spokeswoman. Its larger diameter will allow it to better control noise and emissions, she said.


“The odor should be greatly reduced with the new (oxidizer); however, we cannot guarantee zero odors,” she said.


Some of the noise complaints stem from a gas-reduction site on the property owned by Northern Natural Gas, Lichty said. The gas company is working on the problem, she said.


United Ethanol plans to install the new oxidizer as soon as possible, Lichty said. A construction company plans to lay a concrete base for the equipment next week, she said.


The concrete pad will take about a month to cure, and assembly will take another month after that, depending on the weather, Lichty said.


“It should be up and running as soon as it’s assembled,” she said.


Plant officials are pleased with the DNR’s approval, but some neighbors are not. Several neighbors spoke against the permit request at a public hearing because it would raise emissions limits slightly. Don Faith, permit engineer, said DNR data indicates the increased emissions would not affect air quality.


“What I’ve learned from this experience is that the DNR permit process is more about protecting the permit holder than it is about protecting citizens or our natural resources,” Leanne Glorvigen, a plant opponent, wrote in an e-mail to The Janesville Gazette.


But the DNR had to approve or deny the permit request based on whether it met air quality standards, not neighbor complaints or previous permit violations, Faith wrote in his letter granting the request.


“The department does not have the authority to deny the permit or changes other than the (oxidizer) based solely on the requests of those submitting public comments,” he wrote.


“Although the permit will address some of the issues that may have resulted in violations of the current permit, violations of the current (existing) permit is not a statutory basis for denial of a subsequent permit application.”


Meanwhile, the DNR continues to investigate the plant’s previous violations, Pierce said.


“Certainly we are continuing to work on the concerns identified in the report,” she said.



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