CHAMPAIGN – The Champaign and Urbana city councils are being advised to formally protest a proposed county zoning amendment that would allow ethanol manufacturing plants in unincorporated areas.
Under the proposal now before the Champaign County Board's Environment and Land Use Committee, ethanol plants would be allowed in the county in areas zoned heavy industrial if the county board approves a special use permit.
The committee will consider the issue again at its May 8 meeting.
The city councils have the right to review the proposed zoning ordinance amendment and to protest it if they find it unacceptable. If one of the cities formally protests, it would take a two-thirds majority of the county board, 18 out of 27 votes, to approve the amendment, instead of a simple majority.
The city councils will consider the issue at their meetings this week – and protests appear likely in both cities.
Both cities' planning commissions and planning staff have recommended a formal protest if the county doesn't add further protections to prevent traffic, odor and water problems.
Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart noted that a possible ethanol plant near The Andersons, a grain storage, marketing and farm fertilizer business just outside the northwest Champaign city limits, would be near future Champaign subdivisions.
"We're concerned about odors because there's going to be residential close to that area," Schweighart said.
Ethanol plants also have been raised as possibilities near Royal and Dewey.
Champaign and Urbana planning staffs are both recommending that the county include provisions that only a dry mill process should be allowed for ethanol plants and that thermal oxidizers should be required to remove volatile organic compounds that can cause odors.
Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight said he and other planning staff recently visited an ethanol manufacturing plant in Palestine to learn more about the pros and cons of such a facility. He said they learned that a wet-mill process, which uses water for breaking down corn into ethanol, has stronger odors than a dry-mill process, which uses a grinding process to break down corn.
The Archer Daniels Midland plant in Decatur uses a wet-mill process, Knight said.
Knight said he asked residents in Palestine what the odor from the ethanol plant smelled like.
He said he was told variously that it smelled like "beer, popcorn, cookies baking, bread baking, Cheerios and a shot of whiskey."
"They agreed the odor was more pleasant smelling than anything and was pretty minor," Knight said.
Champaign and Urbana also want a traffic impact analysis by a professional engineer to be required before an ethanol plant would be allowed.
In Urbana, the plan commission listed nine concerns, including noise and the impact of such a plant on the Mahomet aquifer.
Urbana is asking that a study be done on the potential impact of any ethanol plant on the aquifer, including the rate of water use and the effect on shallow wells. The city requests a capacity analysis of the aquifer and examination of the seasonal impacts of such a plant.
"Water is really our biggest issue," said Urbana Planner Matt Wempe.
"The Mahomet aquifer is very valuable to the area and state. Staff and the mayor are concerned about the higher intensity water uses and what the cumulative effect is on the aquifer."
An official with The Andersons told county officials that a 100-million-per-year ethanol plant would require 2 million gallons of water per day. Illinois American Water's Champaign district, which includes Champaign, Urbana and outlying towns, pumps an average of 22 million gallons of water per day.
County board member Ralph Langenheim, D-Urbana, who chairs the Environment and Land Use Committee, said rural county board members are strongly in favor of ethanol plants.
"Some of the rural county board members are passionately for it and think it ought to be allowed by right (in a zoning district), not by special use permit," he said.