Janesville60.2°

Neighbors: Ethanol plant still stinks

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Stacy Vogel
February 18, 2009
— Two years, and nothing has changed at the United Ethanol plant on the outskirts of Milton, neighbor Ginny Goodman said.

“We don’t open our windows in the summer,” she told the Milton City Council on Tuesday. “I just feel like I’m being robbed of my right to use my backyard or to be outside.”


City council members and neighbors expressed frustration Tuesday that despite repeated talks with the plant, intervention by the Department of Natural Resources and installation of a large new piece of equipment, neighbors still say the plant smells.


United Ethanol, 1250 Chicago St., installed a new regenerative thermal oxidizer in December in response to complaints about smell, noise and emissions. A June DNR report found the plant out of compliance with more than 170 of 370 permit items, and the plant blamed inadequate equipment for many of the alleged violations.


The new equipment has decreased noise at the plant, but the odor still causes council member Dave Adams’ eyes to water, he said.


“It (the new equipment) was going to work miracles, and I’ve been out a number of times since,” he said. “Nothing’s changed.”


He asked the city attorney, Mark Schroeder, to investigate how the city could punish the plant for objectionable odors and present his findings at Tuesday’s meeting.


The conditional-use permit Milton issued to United Ethanol says the plant must follow DNR and federal regulations, including those regulating smell, Schroeder wrote in a memo to the city.


The DNR can declare odor objectionable based on its own investigation or a random sampling in which 60 percent of people exposed to the odor at home or work find it objectionable, he wrote.


The council asked Schroeder on Tuesday to draft a letter to the DNR asking it to investigate the odor.


United Ethanol is required to test emissions from its new equipment within 90 days of installation and planned to do so this week, said Eileen Pierce, DNR regional air and waste leader. It has another 60 days to report its results to the DNR.


Council members said they want the DNR to investigate the odor while it examines the emission test results.


Council member Maxine Striegl didn’t want to wait even that long.


“I think the DNR is dragging their feet doing something,” she said. “Let’s get onto them and get it done. None of this 60 days. They’ve had their 60 days as far as I’m concerned.”


The city has a few options when it comes to odor enforcement, Schroeder said. It can work with the plant to get voluntary compliance, cite the plant through municipal court or seek damages in circuit court.


Schroeder did not find any procedure for review and revocation of the conditional-use permit in case of permit violations, he wrote in the memo.


That alarmed Adams. He asked Schroeder to investigate how the city could establish such a procedure.


“I have a real problem with being a member of a body that issues a conditional-use permit and has no recourse to revoke it,” he said. “I don’t want to be part of putting anybody else in a position these folks are finding themselves in right now.”


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Dori Lichty, spokeswoman for United Ethanol, said Tuesday the plant couldn’t intelligently comment on the situation discussed by the Milton City Council on Tuesday night until it was informed of the contents of the discussion.


The Janesville Gazette was not able to reach Lichty for a comment this morning.


Here is a statement she sent the Gazette before Tuesday’s council meeting:


“Since the installation of the new RTO, there are a few households that have entered complaints about the odor. When United Ethanol receives these complaints, we document them, visit the site, and document again. Documentation includes such things as: Is there an odor? Is the odor from United Ethanol? If so, what caused it? Which direction is the wind blowing?


“United Ethanol operations are moving along nicely; we are producing ethanol, distiller’s grain for livestock producers, and carbon-dioxide capturing for the food processing, beverage, (and other) industries.


“United Ethanol continues to be an asset to the Milton community. We bring 35 jobs to the Milton area, in addition to affiliated businesses growing their operations on account of United Ethanol and transporting corn, distiller’s grain, and carbon dioxide. In 2008, United Ethanol purchased approximately $150,000 in water from the city, and we’re in the process of paying about $349,000 for 2008 property taxes.”



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