Lodge residents receive info on new plant

LODGE – Groans and raised eyebrows greeted representatives from Clarkson Grain during a public meeting to discuss bringing a corn-processing plant to a 40-acre site in Lodge.

The plant would be used to process corn to make tortillas and corn chips.

"I'm not against companies and not against bringing in new jobs," said Angie Wrench, a Lodge resident who lives next to the site. "But there are other places they could put it without affecting the whole community of Lodge."

Clarkson Grain is representing El Milagro Inc. of Chicago in a deal to acquire land from Lodge farmer Phil Knox. Plans call for a 45,000-square-foot plant, described as the size of a football field; office space, storage elevators and a 10-foot-deep wastewater retention pond. A letter to Lodge residents states the plant will create 30 jobs initially.

The facilities will cost $6 million to $13 million and take up a fraction of the 40 acres.

"Perhaps it will grow, and we'll put something else in eventually," said Jerry Shaffer, President of SKS Engineering of Decatur, which designed the plant. Lynn Clarkson, president of Clarkson Grain, said the additional land could be used for landscaping.

Pay would be $10 an hour for laborers, with professionals earning $80,000 or more, according to Clarkson.

"We need the jobs," said area resident Randy Keith. "I could find 30 people right now."

Clarkson said the company would not discriminate on hiring. Several people asked whether El Milagro would lean toward hiring Hispanic labor.

"When I go to Beardstown (where Clarkson Grain operates a soybean-processing plant) 48 percent of kids enrolled in elementary school have to have an interpreter," said Lodge resident Ruthie Rolling. "The town stinks too."

Chris Shaffer of SKS Engineering allowed people to smell a liquid sample of the corn, water and lime combination. Lime is used in the process of turning corn into masa. Excess water and lime will be stored in the retention pond and later used to irrigate Knox's land. Clarkson said the Environmental Protection Agency will oversee construction to make sure the site complies.

He described the facility as the "greenest" he has ever been involved with.

The plant would buy specialty corn – hybrid blue corn and white corn – from area farmers. The specialty crop sells at 45 cents per bushel more than yellow corn. Six truckloads per day would drop off corn at the plant six days a week, with an equal number of trucks picking up processed masa. Deliveries would be restricted to daytime hours but the plant would operate 24 hours. Officials said traffic would be the most invasive aspect of the new facility, and noise from the facility would not affect residents.

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