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Public airs its concerns about ethanol plant’s waste water discharge—Plant had chance to respond Thursday

By Staff | Jan 11, 2008

ESTHERVILLE–Superior Ethanol had its opportunity to address public concern over its proposed discharge of waste water into the west fork of the Des Moines River north of Estherville during a community meeting on Thursday night.

“My hope is that everyone walks away learning something,” said the plant’s general manager Doug Archer to a packed room at the Estherville City Council chambers. “It’s important to us that we do things the right way.”

Archer brought with him a contingency, including plant manager Al Meister, production manager Tod Smith and a representative from DeWild Grant Reckert (DGR) and Associates of Rock Rapids, the company that designed the plant’s waste water treatment plant and discharge system.

Concern for the effects the plant’s waste water could have on river environment, river recreation and Estherville’s water treatment facility, just downstream from the proposed discharge site near Emmet County’s North Trail Head, has many people wondering if the proposal is advised.

Original plans didn’t propose bringing the water east to the Des Moines River. Instead, it was proposed to go to a small stream south of Superior. When the DNR told plant designers the stream didn’t have enough flow for its waste water, the design had to be changed.

Archer started off the meeting as the salesman he admitted to be and told the crowd the many benefits Superior Ethanol will have to its surrounding communities. He also urged people not to think of those benefits staying just in Dickinson County, but to move “beyond the borders.”

Then he turned his attention to the water and described the two types of systems the plant will operate with, both of which are closed-loop systems meaning water used for the production of ethanol will never come into contact with water used for cooling the plant’s systems–the discharge water in question.

Archer explained water Superior Ethanol will be using in its operations was found to be unusable as is. Green Plains Renewable Energy Inc., the company building the Superior plant, was forced to build a more-than-$3 million water treatment plant on site just to have clean water to use for ethanol production, putting the project over budget.

“We’ve made every effort to make this right,” he said. “To pass the ‘smell test,’ so to speak.”

Much of the public’s issues with the project come from the discharge water’s temperature. Archer explained the Iowa Department of Natural Resources puts strict limits on temperature and mineral content of discharge water. The maximum temperature that water can be, a figure many people have become familar with, is about 91 degrees.

He said Superior Ethanol is projecting the water to be nearly 30 degrees cooler than that maximum when it leaves the plant, between 60-75 degrees in the summer.

He said in the winter that temperature will be cooler and he and the DGR representative agreed the water should be even cooler than that at the discharge point because of the six miles it must travel to get to the river.

They also reassured the audience the DNR looks at every site individually. During the permitting process, the state looks closely at river use, river wildlife and several other factors to determine what limits the waste water being discharged must meet.

It also takes into account concerns people who use the river have about any proposed project.

Archer said this project was no different.

“The DNR, I think they do their job,” he said. “They look at all of those factors and tell us what to do.”

Archer added if there was a problem, the DNR wouldn’t allow Superior Ethanol continue with its plans.

The question was raised as to who will monitor the waste water. Archer explained the water would be sent to a certified testing lab and results would be sent to the DNR. To receive the permit, the state is requiring Superior Ethanol to test at least once per month.

That was a point of contention for the city of Estherville. City administrator Steve Woodley said he had no qualms with the limits the DNR is placing on the ethanol plant, his question was in the monitoring.

“It needs to be more than just once a month,” he said. “I’d like to see you at least voluntarily commit to once a week testing.”

“I don’t see a problem with that,” Archer replied. “We’ll do it once a week and if we want to go to once a month, we’ll come back and have at meeting just like this.”

He went further and said when the plant first begins operations, tentatively slated for March 3, he’d test once a day until the plant’s management is comfortable that everything is going as planned.

“That goes a long way,” Woodley said.

“We’re going to do this the right way,” Archer added.

Contact Nathan Christophel at (712) 362-2622 or editor@esthervilledailynews.com and visit our photo sharing Web site at cu.esthervilledailynews.com