Monday, January 07, 2008

Ethanol plant in Selma or not?

I am on the Selma Planning Board and was at the meeting on Dec. 10, 2007 when the board approved the rezoning request for a proposed ethanol plant in the ETJ of Selma (outside the town limits but still within the zoning and planning reach of the town's jurisdiction). Since that meeting, I have been in conversation with one main opponent of the plant. I have had discussions with a town council member on the proposed plant. I have read articles and seen videos online about ethanol plants.

There are several main arguments against the plant. They consist of objections to the rezoning request based upon legal precedent, the keeping of harmony with the neighboring town's zoning, and improper zoning based upon definitions of what is and is not "spot zoning". Other arguments are that the plant will use a lot of water for production, especially during a drought. Also the possible pollution aspect is being touted.

Is all of this true? I really don't know for several reasons. Not all ethanol plants use the same technology, will be the same size of physical plant, and have the same methods of production. One thing for certain is the end product being the same. Unfortunately, ethyl alcohol is not a bad product and is needed in various processes. As far as being a source of an alternative fuel, I believe it to be a load of bunk.

The town council will hold a public hearing on the rezoning request tomorrow night. I will plan on being in attendance and possibly recording audio of the discussion from the public input commentary and from the council. I will probably be writing my column for this week on the topic. I have been thinking about the column all weekend and I believe I know what direction I will take in the scribbling of my paltry column.

I am quite frankly surprised at the comments by Mayor Hester. He keeps talking about improving the tax base and how this may help Selma in that matter. Hello??? The proposed plant is NOT inside the town limits.

Here is the Selma News article on the plant.
Selma could soon be home to an ethanol manufacturing facility capable of producing 110 million gallons of ethanol per year. Not everyone views this in a positive light.

At its December meeting the Selma Planning Board approved the rezoning of a piece of property located along West Blanche Street in Selma from residential-agriculture (RA) to industrial-2 (I-2) with a special use permit to allow for the construction of the facility.

The Selma Town Council will make the final decision on the matter following a public hearing on Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. inside the Jernigan Building on East Anderson Street.

During the planning board meeting Keith Parrish, a representative of East Coast Ethanol, who is the potential buyer of the property from the Parker heirs, spoke about the project. Grace and Bruce Parker, requested the rezoning on behalf of the heirs, who plan to sell the property to East Coast Ethanol.

Parrish said plans are to build a 110 million gallon ethanol manufacturing facility on the property, most likely along West Blanche Street. He said the facility should provide a minimum of 45 full-time jobs.

Parrish told the planning board company engineers are looking at the best access point to the property, which he believes will be at West Blanche Street, with the majority of traffic entering and exiting on Highway 70.

Planning Board Chairman Dennis Davis told Parrish that there needs to be a traffic study done, because West Blanche is not made for heavy equipment. He said because this is such a busy thoroughfare, road improvements to West Blanche and potential turn lanes or stacking off of Highway 70 will have to be a part of the special use agreement.

Parrish said that the vast majority of product (corn) and any equipment would come by rail, and that much of the ethanol will be transported out by rail.

Davis reiterated that West Blanche is a secondary-type road and that the special use permit will require upgrades and improvements to the roadway.
It was determined that the majority of the property surrounding the Parker heirs’ site is already zoned I-2.

Parrish introduced Lee Denton, project manager, who has an office in Benson.
Parrish told the board that the ethanol company will be going public with its stock offer soon, but is in the process of filing with the Securities Exchange Commission, so are limited on how much information can be released to the public at this time.

Tony Tetterton, who owns RVacation Campground on Campground Road, not far from the proposed site, is against the rezoning effort. He said the plant would be situated in a mostly residential area, not an industrial area.

He also has concerns about the amount of water the facility will require and the effect that will have on the water table in surrounding areas. He contends that an ethanol manufacturing plant of this size will produce more than 200 tons of pollutants each year and that those pollutants will affect a several mile radius beyond the plant.

"The thing is, if this plant were constructed just two years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency would have required it to reduce emissions 95 percent," said Tetterton. "That would take the 200 tons to an average of 10 tons a year, a much more manageable amount. Two years ago any plant that produced more than 100 tons of pollutants a year was considered a major polluter and had to adhere to these guidelines. Now, those who produce in excess of 250 tons of pollutants each year are considered major polluters. That’s quite a jump. So, this plant most likely won’t have to attempt to reduce its emissions."

Tetterton has been distributing a flyer, detailing water consumption and the types of toxins that could be released into the air surrounding the plant.

"The information on the flyer comes from the Environmental Protection
Agency and from ethanol producers' websites," said Tetterton. "There are three processes by which ethanol is produced – dry mill, wet mill and one new experimental process that is being tested now. The air pollutants listed are those that are produced through a dry mill process. The wet mill process also produces air pollutants, similar to those produced through the dry mill process."

Tetterton admits that he does not know which process the plant plans to use, but said it is highly unlikely that the experimental (and cleaner) process would be used.

"There is only one such plant under construction in the nation," said Tetterton. "The process is in the testing phase and it is unlikely that it will be used in the Selma. Of course, there is no way to know what process will be used, because the company planning the plant is being so tight-lipped about it, waiting to go public."

He said a plant utilizing the cleaner process takes about 200 people to operate. Since East Coast Ethanol is estimating about 45 employees, Tetterton says there’s no way they plan to use this process.

Information on Tetterton’s flyer states that is three gallons of water is required to produce just one gallon of ethanol. That's 330 million gallons of water a day or 904,000 gallons a year.

"Experience shows that this will reduce the water table for miles around the plant, drying up wells," said Tetterton on the flyer.

The list of "hazardous and toxic air pollutants" on the flyer include acetaldehyde, acetic acid, ammonia, benzene, dichlorobenzene, ethyl acetate, formaldehyde, manganese, toluene, and xylene.

Tetterton is encouraging Pine Level and Selma area residents to attend the public hearing on Jan. 8 to discourage Selma leaders from granting the rezoning of the property, thus preventing the construction of the ethanol plant.

He also has asked residents to contact their town leaders in Selma and Pine Level to voice their concerns, if any.

Selma Mayor Charles Hester said the plant is not definite. The only issue at the moment is one of rezoning.

"We’ve just been asked to rezone the property," said Hester. "If the plant is constructed, it will have a positive impact on Selma. It could add $100million to our tax vase. That's significant for the town."

He said there will be no incidences of hazardous or unsafe pollution because the plant would be required to obtain permitting that would prohibit contamination.

"Ethanol is made from farm products, so the farming community could benefit from such a plant in Selma," said Hester. "It will bring jobs. Those who come into town to construct the facility will stay, shop,a nd spend money in Selma. I believe the beneifts would far outweigh any negatives."

Here is the Smithfield Herald's article on the proposed plant.
A South Carolina company is expected to ask the Town Council on Tuesday to rezone a 106-acre plot just east of town for commercial development. The project would be one of the first ones in North Carolina.

East Coast Ethanol of Columbia, S.C. hopes to build an ethanol plant on the site, located along Selma-Pine Level Road about one mile from the town limit. The plant would produce 110 million gallons of ethanol from corn, the company's Vice President Keith Parrish said.

Parrish declined to discuss at length the plans for the plant, citing as a concern that his company is currently in the process of registering with the Securities Exchange Commission. But Parrish did note that construction of the facility, which would initially employ about 45 people, could begin as early as 2009. The cost of the project could exceed $200 million, he added.

Selma Mayor Charles Hester said this week that a company representative met with the Selma Planning Board Dec. 10 to request that the property be rezoned. He said the planning board recommended approval. The Town Council then called for a public hearing for Jan. 8.

"In the event that this does happen, it could potentially be a major development for the town," Hester said. "It could have a major impact on our tax base. That would be important for us."

East Coast Ethanol was formed in September 2007 through a merger of four ethanol companies in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, Parrish said. The plant in Selma was originally planned by Mid-Atlantic Ethanol of Benson, one of the four companies that merged.

The Selma plant would come with its challenges. Among them would be providing enough water to supply East Coast's needs. Reports indicate that the company would require about 1.2 million gallons of water a day. Tim Broome, county utilities director, said East Coast's demand for water could pose a problem if the company were allowed to draw from public water systems. Designating so much water for the ethanol plant "could shorten the life of our resources," he said.

Broome suggested as an alternative that the plant rely on reclaimed water for its production. He said Johnston has more than enough reclaimed water in reserve to meet East Coast's need.

"It might not be preferable, but we have plenty of reclaimed water, and using it wouldn't put any strain on the public water system," he said. "But of course these decisions are totally up to the county commissioners."

Should the Town of Selma approve the rezoning request and any subsequent requests for development, East

Coast stands poised to be among the first companies to build an ethanol plant in North Carolina. Five plants have been proposed in the state, but so far only one — a $100 million refinery in Hoke County — is under construction.

No comments: