Piatt County zoning board backs corn plant

Piatt County zoning board backs corn plant

MONTICELLO – The Piatt County Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously to recommend the county board approve an application for a special-use permit for a proposed grain-processing plant near White Heath.

The zoning board tacked on seven conditions, though the county board can alter the suggestions as it sees fit. The permit would allow the corn mill to be built in agricultural zoning.

The county board will consider the application at 9 a.m. Aug. 14 at the Piatt County Courthouse. The plant is proposed by Clarkson Grain and Molinero, a subsidiary of Chicago-based El Milagro. A second application to locate the plant in Lodge was dropped with the zoning board's recommendation to approve the White Heath site.

The conditions accompanying the resolution include:

– Holding Clarkson Grain responsible for drawing water from only the Mahomet Aquifer.

– Monitoring and fixing any odor problems with a proposed wastewater lagoon.

– Sticking to its proposed landscape and construction designs.

– Paving its parking lots and interior roadways to prevent dust.

– Agreeing to meet noise and delivery requirements.

– Keeping down lighting to prevent disturbing neighbors.

– Complying with all federal, state and local regulations.

Before deciding, the zoning board heard about 2 1/2 hours of statements Tuesday from both proponents and opponents. The circuit courtroom spilled over with attendees – many sat on the royal blue carpet in front of the board's table, and the board set up speakers in the elevator lobby to accommodate those who couldn't fit into the courtroom.

Speakers from both sides included engineers, researchers and neighbors of the proposed White Heath site.

Both sides implored the zoning board to "use common sense" and "make the responsible decision."

Opponents raised concerns about the environmental risks they think the plant poses, while proponents argued that subdivisions are ultimately a drain on county finances and that the county needs industry to support its tax base.

Paul Doane, a member of the Sangamon Township Board, told the zoning board that people living in rural subdivisions don't realize that farming is a business and Clarkson Grain would pay premium prices for area farmers to grow white corn to be processed in the mill. It may mean farmers could earn as much as $10,000 on 100 acres of corn, as opposed to $4,200 for the same amount of corn at non-premium prices.

Jeremy Maupin, who represented a group of concerned White Heath homeowners, told board members they need to rethink Piatt County's zoning as a whole before issuing any special use permits. He said the county's last comprehensive plan was passed in 1970.

"The county's land use plan should be updated as soon as possible so that current and future residents have advance notice of potential changes," Maupin told the board. And furthermore, he said, the application for the White Heath special use permit wasn't filed in time for the zoning board or the people of Sangamon Township, where both sites are located, to do proper research into the plant and its implications.

"Three weeks' notice is not enough notice for the people of Sangamon Township," Maupin said.

Maupin said he's disappointed about the board's recommendation because it didn't consider changing the comprehensive zoning plan.

"They took the easy way out," Maupin said. But White Heath homeowners will regroup before the county board meeting, he said.

Rick Bucker, the executive vice president of Clarkson Grain, said he thinks the conditions added with the zoning board's recommendation are appropriate.

"We're looking forward to working with the county board ... and coming up with a plan that works for everybody," Bucker said.