Grain business seeks zoning for ethanol plant

CHAMPAIGN – The Andersons, a grain storage, marketing and farm fertilizer business in northwest Champaign, is considering building an ethanol plant there.

In response to interest expressed by The Andersons and the possibility of other plant proposals coming down the pipeline, the Champaign County Department of Planning and Zoning has suggested amending the county zoning ordinance.

"We know there's an increased demand for ethanol. ... We can expect that demand to manifest itself here in Champaign County, because the county is such a big source of grain," said John Hall, director of planning and zoning.

On Thursday night, the Champaign County Zoning Board of Appeals weighed a proposal to allow ethanol production in the I-2 Heavy Industrial District. Discussion will continue at the next meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. March 30 in the Brookens Center, 1776 E. Washington St., U.

The Andersons, on Staley Road, northwest of Champaign, is in the general industrial zoning district, and if the company were to build an ethanol plant at its Champaign site, it would need to request a rezoning, Hall said.

But nothing is definite yet.

"There are a lot of rumors flying around," said Larry Wood, the elevator's general manager.

The company is busy conducting what Wood called due diligence, such as digging test wells to determine water availability.

About six gallons of water are needed to produce one gallon of ethanol, Wood said. A 100 million-gallon-per-year ethanol plant would require 600 million gallons of water per year, or 2 million gallons of water per day. Illinois American Water Co.'s Champaign district, which includes Champaign, Urbana and outlying towns, pumps an average of 22 million gallons of water per day.

After taking testimony from Wood on Thursday, ZBA chairwoman Debra Griest said the company appeared to have a good plan for assessing its water needs. But, she wondered out loud, what if not all potential manufacturers had such solid plans?

"How do we ensure that all operators are responsible?" she asked.

Zoning board members requested planning and zoning staff to draft a condition that would require petitioners to certify that they had done adequate water and well tests.

The Andersons is not the only business mulling the idea of building an ethanol plant in Illinois.

Mark Lambert, communications director for the Illinois Corn Growers, said he has a state map "plastered" with the markings of locations where farmers, private business investors and other interest groups are thinking about getting into the ethanol business.

"This opportunity is no secret anymore," Lambert said.

Competition is a good thing, he said, but the association is also trying to assess how many facilities the state can handle.

The Andersons, based in Maumee, Ohio, has equity stakes in ethanol plants in Albion, Mich. and Rensselaer, Ind. Both plants are under construction and expected to start production this year.

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