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Corn Plus case goes to the Feds

By Staff | Jan 10, 2009

Although it’s been nearly 18 months, officials aren’t saying anything about a probe of alleged water quality violations at Corn Plus in Winnebago.

One thing is certain, the investigation has reached the federal level.

A state Environmental Protection Agency official says the case has been referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minneapolis.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official says an attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office criminal division is reviewing the matter.

Any questions regarding the investigation are being addressed by the federal EPA office in Chicago.

“It’s still under investigation. Other than that, there’s no other comment I can make at this time,” says Randall Ash, special agent of the EPA’s criminal investigations division.

Jean Cooney of the U.S. Attorney’s Office says the attorney named by the state EPA official does prosecute criminal cases. However, she would not confirm nor deny federal prosecutors in Minneapolis are involved.

Ash didn’t want to speculate when the case would be wrapped up. He also would not comment on the severity of allegations Corn Plus faces.

“Not all cases are referred to our agency,” Ash says.

In August 2007, state and local authorities executed a search warrant at the ethanol plant.

Water samples were collected from three locations at the facility and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency officials, county and Winnebago law enforcement officers were authorized to seize the following items:

• disposal records;

• records of discharges of any kind;

• records of agreements and contracts;

• written policies;

• billing records;

• operational laboratory and telephone records;

• diaries and daily planners;

• employee records;

• organizational charts.

The MPCA claims that between Oct. 17, 2006, and June 4, 2007, they received numerous citizens complaints of visible milky discharges of wastewater into a ditch leading to Rice Lake, as well as odors related to the discharges.

State officials believe Corn Plus has “periodically and intentionally” discharged its wastewater into the county ditch.

“It appears that the company makes such illegal discharges at least in part to avoid the cost of discharging wastewater to the city’s wastewater treatment plant,” was another reason listed to support issuance of a search warrant.