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Corn Plus penalized $891K

By Staff | Feb 8, 2010

A variety of alleged water-quality violations at Corn Plus in Winnebago will cost the company nearly $900,000.

The owners of the ethanol facility have agreed to pay a $200,000 civil penalty and complete a Supplemental Environ-mental Project (SEP) totaling no less than $691,000.

The agreement reached with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is to resolve violations of environmental permits obtained from the agency.

A former Corn Plus board member isn’t too pleased with the latest round of penalties imposed.

“Some heads should roll. I’m disappointed with the management team on this thing. They should be held responsible, not the farmers and shareholders,” says a former board member, who asked to remain anonymous.

Last year, the ethanol producer paid a $150,000 penalty to settle a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency criminal water-quality charge.

Corn Plus officials did not return a phone call from the Register for a comment.Ralph Pribble of the MPCA’s ethanol control division says the violations occurring from 2006 to 2008 were documented during staff inspections of the facility.

A significant portion of the infractions alleged in the agreement relate to operating an unpermitted wastewater disposal system and discharge of wastewater that violated surface water-quality standards. The company also failed to report the discharges.

Under the SEP in the penalty agreement, Corn Plus will install:

• a closed-loop heat transfer system to reduce overall water usage by 10 million gallons and wastewater to the city’s treatment facility by about six million gallons annually;

• more efficient lighting.

Pribble says improvements, which will reduce energy consumption at the plant, must be completed by September.

“The agency will check from time to time to make sure they are doing what is required under the agreement,” Pribble says.

The MPCA’s involvement was the result of complaints of odorous and discolored discharges to nearby surface waters and after law enforcement observed similar discharges.

It was discovered the discharges from a cooling tower at the facility had been illegally connected to a stormwater system that emptied into a county ditch and then Rice Lake.