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Community weighs in on ethanol plant discharge

By Staff | Jan 12, 2008

ESTHERVILLE–Members of the public also had their chance to tell representatives from Superior Ethanol why they thought discharging the ethanol plant’s waste water from its cooling system was a bad idea during the community meeting held Thursday night.

Estherville mayor Lyle Hevern preluded the meeting by informing the packed council chambers in Estherville the purpose of the gathering was only to “ask the folks from Superior Ethanol some questions.”

“Nothing will be forwarded on to Des Moines and the DNR by me,” Hevern said. “If you have concerns, you need to write to Wendy.”

He was speaking of Wendy Hieb with the NPDES section of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Hieb is accepting comments from the public on the proposed discharge at Emmet County’s North Trail Head north of Estherville through Monday, Jan. 14.

Anyone who would like to express their views on the issue should either write to her at:

Wendy Hieb

Iowa DNR

NPDES Section

509 E. Ninth St.

Des Moines, IA 50319.

People also can send her an email at “mailto:wendy.hieb@dnr.iowa.gov”>wendy.hieb@dnr.iowa.gov to make sure their comments get to her on time.

People attending the meeting, however, wanted answers from Superior Ethanol and were sure to get their points across.

Many questions surfaced about the temperature limit of the waste water that will be discharged into the west fork of the Des Moines River.

It was previously reported the maximum temperature of the water being discharged could be about 90 degrees. Superior Ethanol general manager Doug Archer explained to those in attendance, however, that figure is the maximum allowed by the DNR to obtain the necessary permit.

He also added the plant has not yet received a permit for the discharge from the state. The final decision on whether or not to issue that should be made after Monday.

Archer and his contingency from the ethanol plant, including a representative from DeWild Grant Reckert and Associates of Rock Rapids, the engineering firm which designed the plant’s water treatment plant and discharge system, informed the crowd the temperature of water being discharged into the river will be significantly less than that 90-degree maximum.

Archer told the concerned community members the temperature of the water to be discharged will leave the plant at 60-75 degrees, nearly 30 degrees less than that maximum. Plus, it has six miles of piping to go through before it reaches the river, allowing the water to cool even more.

Mike Clarken of Estherville wasn’t sure if that six miles of pipe would make a huge difference. The plants’ DGR representative, however, told him the amount the water will be cooled in the pipes will be significant, citing a similar set up in South Dakota that has the same effect.

Audience members also questioned why the plant had to bring the waste water from Superior all the way to the Des Moines when there is a stream just south of its location.

Archer and the DGR representative informed the crowd that it was a flow issue that forced the plant to find a different route for the discharge water. Originally, Archer explained, the waste water was to be discharged into that stream but the DNR said there wasn’t enough flow. Flow is one of the requirements when it comes to the state giving a discharge permit.

He also said engineers had designed a pool system for the waste water that looked promising but that, too, was denied as a viable option to get rid of the water which is used as a coolant, like a large radiator, for the plant’s nearly 90 percent of automated facilities.

Several audience members were concerned with the level of the river at its lowest. One asked when the Des Moines is down to just six inches, what is the heat from the discharge water going to do to the fish life?

“We’re not dumping waste,” Archer said. “The water is not contaminated.

He added that if the area is experiencing a drought that severe, the additional water could be viewed as a positive.

There will probably be a farmer downstream that’s pumping it back out,” Archer said.

The crowd also was informed that the DNR looks at issues like that when deciding if a permit can be issued. The state looks at a 10-year flow and takes into consideration the lowest possible flow and levels of a river.

Archer and his DGR rep noted on the same token the state also looks at all uses of a waterbody prior to making its permit decision and sets mineral concentration, temperature and all other limits according to those uses and the environment, meaning fish and wildlife and plants.

Another point of contention for the public was why the ethanol plant doesn’t have a holding pond.

We have one,” Archer said.

Only it’s called an equalization pond. Archer explained the nearly one-million gallon pond will allow the plant to pump water in and out at almost a continuous rate.

That is an area that will allow the water to cool off even more,” Archer said.

One member of the public asked if the temperature of the water will force the river to remain unfrozen all year.

I would assume at the immediate discharge area,” Archer said.

Several audience members also were concerned with the plant’s 24/7 operations and it being able to stop discharging if something was wrong.

But that’s why we’ll test,” Archer said. “When there’s a hiccup, we’ll know there’s a hiccup. What you’re suggesting is that we won’t shut down and that’s not true. There will be conditions that will come up where we’ll shut it down.

He, and a few audience members, added that if the DNR finds a problem, the state won’t hesitate shutting the plant down to correct it.

Others were concerned, possibly even upset, that the entire project was railroaded and on a track to where if something is wrong, it just can’t get stopped.

Hevern explained, via a conversation he had with Hieb, that almost all ethanol plants in Iowa have applied for their waste water discharge permits at the tale end of the construction phase.

It’s not unique,” he said.

The Superior Ethanol contingency also said the DNR also will perform affluent toxicity tests on the water at the discharge point on some sensitive species of fish to determine whether or not adjustments need to be made.

Audience members asked if Archer could guarantee the water won’t kill any of the plants or animals in the river or affect its recreational aspect.

There are probably no guarantees,” Archer admitted, “but we’re making every effort to follow all the rules that have been put in place. We’re going to do this the right way.”

Before the two-hour meeting adjourned, Archer also made the committment to Estherville city administrator the plant would test the water at least once a week in its beginning operations. He also said if the plant wanted to go to the minimum once a month testing outlined by the DNR, he would come back to Estherville and have a meeting similar to Thursday’s.

It wasn’t clear in the end if everyone’s questions were answered completely, but everyone who attended the meeting walked away with additional information on the project.

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