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Milton scolds ethanol execs

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Stacy Vogel
October 8, 2008
— United Ethanol CEO David Cramer said he came to Tuesday night's Milton City Council meeting to let Milton know the plant has been proactive in addressing problems.

But his presentation ended with scolding from several council members who said the plant has done just the opposite.


"How can you in good conscience sit there and run that plant knowing that you're in violation and putting that stuff in the air for people to breathe?" council member Tom Chesmore asked.


Chesmore was referring to a state Department of Natural Resources report that listed United Ethanol as violating emissions limits on nitrogen oxides, particulate matter (particle pollutions) and volatile organic compounds (pollutant gasses) after October 2007 testing.


A June report from the DNR says United Ethanol was out of compliance in 170 of its 370 permit items, including emissions violations.


But Cramer said the plant has moved aggressively in addressing the alleged violations, fixing some before the report was even released. Cramer, environmental consultant Dennis Hatfield and General Manager Mike Opdahl listed ways they say the plant has been proactive:


-- At least half of the alleged violations involved record keeping, Hatfield said. The plant didn't always realize how the DNR wanted records kept. It now follows the DNR's interpretation of record-keeping requirements even as it continues to "discuss" those requirements with the DNR, he said.


-- The plant is installing a new, $2 million regenerative thermal oxidizer. The new equipment should greatly reduce noise and odor, Opdahl said.


-- Plant officials have maintained an "extensive dialogue" with the DNR and neighbors, Hatfield said.


-- The plant is installing an electronic environmental management system to help it meet DNR requirements.


-- The plant quickly implemented a computerized preventative maintenance/work order system and continues to expand it.


Regarding emissions, the plant believes it never was out of compliance for volatile organic compounds, Cramer said. The plant disagrees with some DNR representatives about how the compounds should be counted, Hatfield said after the presentation.


"We have been in compliance with VOCs all along, or we would've shut the plant down," Cramer said.


But some council members questioned if the plant is doing enough for neighbors.


Both Chesmore and Maxine Striegl said they've gotten sore throats from spending time near the plant.


"I heard you people say ‘There will be no odors and no noise; we're going to be good neighbors,'" Striegl said. "I want to know when you're going to start."


Cramer said the plant never promised zero odors or noise, but the fact that it's spending $2 million on new equipment indicates that it wants to be a good neighbor.


He said the city should compare ethanol plant emissions to those of other industries. The General Motors plant in Janesville, for example, releases 10 times the emissions of the ethanol plant, he said.


Council member Lynda Clark said the city isn't giving the ethanol plant a fair chance to fix its problems.


"United Ethanol has done their testing; they are working diligently with the DNR; they're replacing what needs to be replaced," she said. "When was the last time any of our other industries were tested or scrutinized this heavily?…


"I can't sit here in good faith and let everybody totally beat up on this company, because I know there are other places we're getting emissions from."


NEW COUNCIL MEMBER

The Milton City Council's first order of business Tuesday was replacing council member Bill Lipke, who died in September.


The council approved the appointment of David Schumacher to the position.


Schumacher spent nearly 20 years on the council but lost a reelection bid in April. He will fill Lipke's position until April 2009.



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