Urbana protests zoning for ethanol facility

URBANA – The Urbana City Council voted unanimously Monday to conditionally protest a county zoning proposal that would allow ethanol manufacturing plants to locate in unincorporated areas zoned heavy industrial.

The move by the city council means that – unless the changes suggested by the city are adopted by the Champaign County Board – it will take a three-quarters vote of the county board, 21 of 27 votes, to approve the proposed zoning ordinance amendment.

The proposed zoning amendment would allow ethanol plants to be established in the county in areas zoned heavy industrial if the Champaign County Zoning Board of Appeals grants a special-use permit.

The county board is expected to consider the issue at its May 18 meeting.

Concern about the water requirements for an ethanol plant appeared to be the prime concern.

"There is a lot of uncertainty about the (Mahomet) aquifer and this is a cause for concern," said city planner Matt Wempe.

Many of the council's questions and concerns were addressed by Larry Woods, general manager of The Andersons, a grain storage, marketing and farm fertilizer business that is considering building an ethanol plant near its facility in unincorporated northwest Champaign.

Woods said his company's ethanol plant would require about 1.7 million gallons of water per day, while the Champaign County district served by Illinois American Water uses about 22 million gallons per day.

Overall, Woods said that an Illinois State Water Survey Web site indicates that an expected 400 million gallons per day could be withdrawn from the Mahomet Aquifer on a sustainable basis, while current daily usage is about 90 million gallons per day.

The Andersons site would offer some water conservation advantages, he said, because the plant would produce about 500,000 to 600,000 gallons of wastewater per day, and this water could be sent downstream via the Kaskaskia River to a Tuscola chemical plant that is currently pumping water out of the aquifer and into the river to dilute the discharge from the chemical plant.

A "horse race" is being run in Champaign County to build the first ethanol plant, Woods said. He said The Andersons' possible plant would use 45 million bushels of corn per year, nearly equal to the 50 million bushels produced annually in Champaign County. The plant, which would cost $110 million to build and produce 35 to 40 jobs, would buy grain from a wider area than just the county, he said.

"It is indeed a horse race (to build a plant), whoever gets there first," Woods said. "It probably wouldn't be economical to put in another plant within 30 miles."

The Andersons has not yet made a final decision about an ethanol plant, he added, and is considering other sites besides in Champaign County.

The council added several conditions that it would like to see the county add to its proposed zoning amendment, including:

– Requiring a water study.

– Requiring that a special-use permit for a plant not be issued unless the study determines "no significant adverse impact with mitigation measures on the Mahomet Aquifer."

– A traffic impact analysis by a professional engineer.

– That a dry-mill process will be used and thermal oxidizers will be installed. Both steps would reduce odors.

– Requiring a letter from an engineer saying the factory is not expected to violate the Illinois Noise Statute.

The Champaign City Council will consider at its meeting tonight whether to join Urbana in protesting the proposed county zoning amendment.

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