City could change ethanol plant’s permit
A formal complaint from a council member and a report from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources have set in motion a process to reexamine United Ethanol’s conditional-use permit. The city plan commission will hold a public hearing on the issue Monday, Sept. 21.
The complaint and DNR report stem from two incidents when neighbors said the plant smelled. In the second incident, a DNR official said the smell caused an instant headache and queasy stomach, but the plant said the smell was caused by an isolated incident.
The city council passed an ordinance in May allowing it to alter or revoke a conditional-use permit if the holder is found to be violating the permit. Council members asked for the ordinance after learning they had no power to revoke United Ethanol’s permit.
The plant’s DNR permit says it must avoid objectionable odors, and the conditional-use permit says it must meet all DNR requirements.
City Attorney Mark Schroeder said the ordinance applies to all conditional-use permits, even if they were issued before the ordinance went into effect.
Council member David Adams filed a written complaint about the plant after a visit to a plant neighbor June 19. A neighbor, Gina Frank, called him that day about the smell, and he agreed it was offensive, he wrote in an e-mail to City Administrator Todd Schmidt.
“I consider this just another in a long list of incidents concerning offensive odors coming from the United Ethanol facility,” Adams wrote. “This issue has continued long enough, and these people (plant neighbors) deserve better from us.”
Brian Barbieur, local DNR air management engineer, was unavailable that day to evaluate the odor, Adams said.
On Aug. 24, Barbieur and Adams responded to a call from Frank and found a strong odor, according to Barbieur’s report.
“Shortly after 3, we just got hit with a wave that was just … it was terrible,” Adams said.
Barbieur wrote that the smell gave him a headache and queasy stomach late in the afternoon. He described waves of sweet, sour and burnt odors.
The incident resulted from a problem in the plant’s grain dryer, said Dori Lichty, United Ethanol spokeswoman. The plant addressed the problem that afternoon, she said.
“It was a fluke incident that resulted from something breaking down,” she said.
But Mayor Tom Chesmore said he’s tired of the plant’s excuses.
“It’s always a ‘one-time event,’” he said. “Eventually, it gets old. They need to deal with the problems that are out there.”
Lichty said the plant has dealt with past problems and is running as it should besides the Aug. 24 incident. She pointed out the plant spent $2 million on a new regenerative thermal oxidizer last year to control emissions.
“United Ethanol takes every complaint seriously,” she said. “We take extra steps to make sure our equipment is working properly. We work with the proper authorities to make sure we are in compliance.”
Plant blames ‘bake-out’ for strong odor Aug. 24
Gina Frank, a neighbor of United Ethanol, said she often smells the plant when the wind is blowing her way.
But she’d never smelled an odor like what came from it Aug. 24, she said.
“It’s not the normal smell when it’s stinky,” she said. “It was a real strong, burnt smell.”
Brian Barbieur, air management engineer with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, described the smell as waves of sweet, sour and burnt odors. On a scale of 1 to 10, he gave it an 8 for intensity and said it gave him a headache and queasy stomach.
Plant spokeswoman Dori Lichty said the smell came after a rotary valve tripped in the grain dryer. When workers restarted the dryer, another piece of equipment became plugged causing grain to go into the regenerative thermal oxidizer that controls emissions. The plant had no choice but to “bake out” the trapped grain, causing the smell, she said.
“It’s just like self-cleaning your oven,” she said. “There’s no way you can avoid it.”
The plant conducts bake-outs every six to eight weeks to make sure the oxidizer is working properly, but this was the first time it had to do so as the result of grain getting into the dryer, she said.
This is the second time Barbieur has declared odor at the plant objectionable. The first time was May 18. In that case, he ranked the smell a 6 out of 10.
Those two cases will be part of a package the DNR is preparing for possible referral to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, said Eileen Pierce, regional air and waste leader. The DNR’s enforcement action against the plant started after a June 2008 report found the plant in violation of 170 terms of its permit.
DNR Secretary Matt Frank will make the final decision about whether to refer the plant to the Department of Justice, she said.
IF YOU GO
What: Milton Plan Commission public hearing to discuss United Ethanol’s conditional-use permit
When: 5:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21.
Where: Milton City Hall, 430 E. High St.