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Proposed Ethanol Plant Concerns Neighbors

by Patricia R. McCoy
Capital Press, February 21, 2003

PAYETTE, Idaho -- Fears of air and water pollution and potential property devaluation led to a crowded hearing here Feb. 13 as area residents opposed a request for a zoning variance to allow promoters to build an ethanol plant.

At issue: a plant proposed by treasure Valley Renewable Resources, which would use locally grown wheat, barley and corn to produce 15 million gallons of ethanol a year, said John Hamilton, TVRR manager.

TVRR asked the Payette County planning and zoning commission for a variance that will rezone the site from agriculture to industrial use during the hearing which lasted until 1:30 p.m. Commissioners took no action, choosing to wait until they can study all the documents submitted to them by TVRR.

The proposed site is immediately out of Fruitland, Idaho, on 120 acres many witnesses called prime farm ground. Hamilton agreed.

"The land was on the market for a long time. Land isn't selling for production agriculture purposes right now, because farming isn't profitable. One parcel we purchased was offered in two pieces for subdivision development," the manager said.

"You can't legislate farmers into staying in business if they can't raise a crop that will generate a profit," Hamilton said. "If our plant is built, producers who farm some 120,000 acres around the site can make a profit again, and they'll stay in business."

The property meets TVRR's needs perfectly, Hamilton said.

"We need rail access, roads that don't go through heavily populated areas, natural gas and a willing seller," he said. "We found them at this location."

"We are aware of the concerns of the neighbors and the community," Hamilton continued. "Quite frankly, we had the same concerns about air, water, noise and dust. We will not have those problems like Midwest ethanol plants had."

The plant will produce ethanol, and capture the carbon dioxide generated in that process to sell to local soda pop plants, the manager explained.

The by-product left from the grain and corn processed into ethanol will be sold wet to area dairies and feedlots. Portions will go to Murray, Utah, to be processed into fish food for Idaho's aquaculture industry.

TVRR is a limited liability company. Owners reside in six Southwest Idaho counties, many of them growers. Their crops will supply the operation, Hamilton explained.

Several witnesses said they opposed the proposed location, not an ethanol plant per se.

"The commission is being asked to change the zoning on this land from agriculture to industrial without sufficient information," said Jerry L. Taylor of Fruitland. "Allowing industrial development in the heart of rich agricultural land is simply not compatible with Payette County's comprehensive plan. That plan was written to minimize the impact of industrial development on agriculture and the community as a whole.

"I suggest holding a referendum to determine if the citizens of Payette County really want this," Taylor said.

"There must be alternate sites that could support and ethanol plant without degrading prime agricultural land," he added.

Area growers haul sugarbeets to the Buckingham Beet dump each fall. It is reached mainly by a road right through the middle of the proposed plant.

Farmers need assurance their sugarbeet trucks will continue to have access to that route, said Art Lee, who raises cattle and crops a little over a mile away from the plant site.

"It would make more sense to locate the plant where the feed will be used - close to diaries and feedlots on the edge of the valley," Lee said.

Ramona Lee, a Fruitland school teacher, asked if any ethanol plants have been built in other areas that experience the inversions seen in the Treasure Valley. Those weather patterns trap pollution near the ground, and cause respiratory and other health problems for many, particularly people who suffer from asthma, she said.

"We hear ethanol plants don't pollute as much as other industry," Lee said. "It's common for promoters to claim they have technology that will avoid problems. TVRR points to the plant in LaVarne, Minn., as an example. There's enough wind in Minnesota that people there are installing wind generators to produce electricity.

"We don't have that kind of wind here," he added. "If e did, we'd solve our problems with inversions as well."

Patricia R. McCoy, Capital Press Staff Writer
Proposed Ethanol Plant Concerns Neighbors
Capital Press, February 21, 2003

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