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MPCA answers ethanol questions in PrestonBy Mike McGrathMonday, June 11, 2001

The air quality permit staff of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) returned to Preston last Thursday evening to conduct a second public meeting on the expansion of the Pro-Corn ethanol plant.

The meeting was well attended by members of the community who listened intently as John Chikkala of the MPCAs Metro District office in St. Paul explained expansion details and answered questions from the interested citizens.

The Pro-Corn facility has applied for a permit to expand the operation from 22.5 million gallons per year to 50 million gallons per year. A public comment period occurred between March 18 and April 21, but was reopened from May 22 to June 1 in response to letters and a petition from 12 citizens who were concerned about the potential increase in odors and emissions from the plant.

Since the last public meeting held in Preston on May 22, the MPCA has received five comment sheets and a letter from the City of Lanesboro. Board members of the Pro-Corn facility also submitted a petition in support of the plant that contained the signatures of 574 citizens. Additional petitions in support of the plant were also submitted Thursday night.

While most of the citizens present at the June 7 meeting wore stickers in support of the Pro-Corn facility, the concerns of those who didnt seemed to center around the issues of odor and particulate matter emissions. Chikkala explained that Pro-Corn had voluntarily decided to increase the stack height to 175 feet and install new scrubbers and nozzles that will decrease the volume of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that are emitted from the facility. Because the company said they would make these changes, the MPCA has now made the increased stack height and the scrubbers a requirement of the permit.

Caroline Schutt of the MPCA staff added that the odors are caused by the VOC emissions and that the addition of the scrubbers will reduce the VOC emissions. She explained that, theoretically, a reduction in VOC emissions should lead to a reduction in odors. Nevertheless, the increase in the stack height is expected to disperse the emissions, and thus the odor, over a broader area.

During the comment and question period, Lawrence Schwanke, President of the Southeast Minnesota Ethanol Coop that owns 63% of the Pro-Corn facility, explained that during the expansion planning the Pro-Corn board had held discussions on what it could do to mitigate the concerns people have about the impact of the plant.

Schwanke explained that the plant would utilize any technology that has "engineering validity" to reduce the emissions and odors, and that is why it voluntarily proposed to add the scrubbers, nozzles and higher stack. To the applause of the audience, he announced that the plant would add new valid technology, "without pressure from the MPCA," if it is proven to be effective in the reduction of odors and emissions.

In response to comments from citizens about the City of Lanesboro objecting to the Pro-Corn facility, the MPCAs Chikkala explained that Lanesboros letter simply raised concern about an increase in odors due to the expansion, and how those odors might have a negative impact on tourism. Chikkala acknowledged that the Lanesboro letter did not specifically speak against the Pro-Corn plant, but only raised concerns about an increase in odors. He explained that at one time the MPCA did regulate odors, but that they no longer had the authority to do so.

In response to the concerns of some local Preston residents about health hazards and the close proximity of the plant to the city, Ms. Schutt explained that "certain sectors of the population are more susceptible" to the effects of ethanol and methanol emissions. "We dont have control of where these facilities are builtwe have authority over particulate emissions," she explained.

In contrast to the public meeting on May 22 where there were relatively few questions from the public, Thursdays meeting brought many questions from citizens who were both supportive and concerned about the expansion. This meeting marked the completion of the MPCAs draft permit public comment process, and the staff recommendations will now go to MPCA management for final approval.

Mike McGrath

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