Concerns aired at ethanol plant forum

Concerns aired at ethanol plant forum

CHAMPAIGN – Concern about the impact of a proposed ethanol plant in northwest Champaign on the waters of the Upper Kaskasia drew more than 90 people Monday night to a public hearing.

The hearing was sponsored by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to hear public comment about its tentative decision to issue a permit to The Andersons Ethanol Champaign LLC, to allow the firm to be able to discharge 720,000 gallons per day of wastewater into the Kaskaskia Ditch from its proposed ethanol plant.

The plant would be near the firm's current grain storage facilities in northwest Champaign. Larry Wood, plant manager at The Andersons, said the Maumee, Ohio-based company hasn't yet made a final decision about whether to build an ethanol production plant in Champaign. The proposed plant would produce 110 million gallons of ethanol per year from corn.

Robert Mosher of the IEPA told the audience at Parkland College that the agency has reviewed The Andersons' permit application and that "all the water quality standards will be met."

"Our conclusion is the quality of life in the stream won't be impacted," he said.

But Traci Barkley, a water resources scientist with the Prairie Rivers Network, a state affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation, expressed a number of concerns during her testimony, including the fact that the company is proposing to use 1.9 million gallons per day from the Mahomet Aquifer to produce ethanol.

"Let's be clear here," she said. "This water is withdrawn from the ground, primarily for use in cooling the ethanol distillate, 40 percent of it is lost through evaporative cooling, and the remainder is discharged, now with concentrated pollutants, to a nearby stream," she said.

Barkley said her concerns include:

– Temperatures of the discharged water. From April through November, the state will allow the discharged water to be as warm as 90 degrees. During dry summer months, there is a low, or no, flow in the Kaskasia, meaning the wastewaters will sometimes be 100 percent of the flow, Barkley said.

"Fish, insects, zooplankton, phytoplankton, and other aquatic species all have a preferred temperature range," she said.

If temperatures get too far above this range, the number of species will decline, Barkley said.

– Water from the Mahomet Aquifer includes arsenic, barium, boron, chlorides, dissolved solids, iron, manganese, phosphorus, sodium and sulfates that, once concentrated through evaporation, might be cause for concern.

– The Kaskaskia might not be able to handle the proposed volume of wastewater without destruction of aquatic habitat and erosion of bottom sediments. She noted that the IEPA lists the Kaskaskia Ditch as impaired because of the presence of PCBs, or polycarbonated biphenyls, which could be stirred up by a discharge averaging 500 gallons per minute.

Charles Young of Urbana expressed concern that the Mahomet Aquifer might be overtaxed by the plant.

"Why isn't surface water used, instead of potable water regarded as some of the world's finest?" he asked.

Young said industries should not be given the right to exploit the aquifer heavily until a better assessment of the aquifer's capacity is conducted.

Paulene Kayes of Champaign questioned the process that was used by the city of Champaign to allow the plant to be built, saying she thought it was based on "jobs and money."

Rod Harris of The Andersons said his expectation is that the Champaign ethanol plant would use less water than the company intially projected. He said the firm operates three ethanol plants and uses about 3 gallons of water for every gallon of ethanol produced, not the 6-to-1 ratio listed in the permit application.

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