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Pa. officials tour Wisconsin ethanol plant

February 22, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Before an ethanol plant opened in Monroe, Wis., in 2002, Mayor Bill Ross said one of the main concerns among members of the community of 10,800 was that it might produce a foul, sulfurous odor.

The reality turned out to be quite different, he said.

"If you've been around a bakery, that's what it's like," Ross said of the Badger State Ethanol plant.

That also was how Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority Executive Director and Franklin County Planning Director Phil Tarquino described the smell.

"When you were off-site, you couldn't hear any noise and you couldn't smell anything," said Tarquino.

Van Horn and Tarquino, along with Letterkenny Township Supervisor Charles Myers and Greene Township Supervisor Charles D. Jamison Jr., went to Monroe Thursday to tour the plant and gauge public opinion.

Next month, they will make a recommendation to the authority's board of directors on whether to proceed with the $2.24 million sale of 55 acres at the Cumberland Valley Business Park to Penn-Mar Ethanol of York, Pa., for a similar plant.

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"The Monroe experience has turned out to be a win-win for the community and Badger State," Ross said Monday.

The plant, which is within city limits, has been a boon to economic development, revitalized the railroad spur to the town and raised the price of corn for local farmers by about 15 cents a bushel, he said.

"We have a lot of happy corn farmers here," Ross said.

There were complaints in the days immediately after the plant opened, but those ended after the plant made adjustments to thermal oxidizers used to treat emissions, he said.

The plant is situated away from the downtown, and Ross said the truck and rail traffic has not been an issue.

Tarquino, who with Jamison and Myers, is a member of the authority's board of directors, said he questioned Monroe and plant officials about plant safety and other issues and was satisfied with the measures taken by the town and Badger State. He said a nursing home, day-care center and a public park are within about 2,000 feet of the plant and new homes are going up within a few hundred feet.

Penn-Mar Ethanol is proposing spending $80 million on a plant in the park, once part of Letterkenny Army Depot. The plant would produce about 60 million gallons of ethanol a year from 20 million bushels of corn, according to Scott Welsh, Penn-Mar's project manager.

"We made it contingent in our sales agreement that Penn-Mar would arrange a trip to a similar facility," Van Horn said Monday.

"If Penn-Mar is creating a facility similar to this, it will be beneficial to our park and not detrimental to the community," Van Horn said.

Construction on the Penn-Mar plant could begin this summer and be completed in late 2006, Welsh said. Stored on site would be up to 1.5 million gallons of fuel ethanol; 75,000 gallons of gasoline to be mixed with the grain alcohol; 330,000 gallons of grain alcohol and 20,000 gallons of ammonia for the fermentation process.

The grain alcohol has to contain a 5 percent mixture of gasoline before it is shipped, because of a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms regulation dating from Prohibition, according to Welsh. He said the plant will capture, condense and market about 125,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year from the fermentation process.

Welsh said another byproduct will be distillers grain, what is left over from the corn fermentation. That will be marketed as livestock feed, he said.

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