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BioFuel anxious to set record straight

By Staff | Jan 31, 2011

Rick Yabroff

An official with BioFuel Energy Corp. says he’s looking forward to answering questions and setting the record straight on Tuesday.

Rick Yabroff — director of environmental health and safety — and other BioFuel officials will meet with Faribault County commissioners to discuss plans to dump wastewater from their Fairmont ethanol plant into the Blue Earth River.

“We’re trying to be very upfront and will answer all the questions people have. We’re not trying to sneak anything by,” says Yabroff. “We’re a sound, environmental company. We will take responsibility for our actions.”

In 2006, BioFuel received permits from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA)?for its Buffalo Lake Energy ethanol plant.

The facility, which produces 110 million gallons of ethanol a year, began actual operations in 2008.

According to the MPCA, the company was granted variances from several water quality standards.

Last October, BioFuel was fined $285,000 for air quality violations and discharging wastewater into Center Creek that failed to meet acceptable levels of toxicity.

“We’ve paid our fines. That’s behind us. We’re looking to the future and going forward,” Yabroff says.

He takes issue with the MPCA’s use of “pollutants and toxicity” when referring to the wastewater the ethanol producer puts into the creek.

“It gives a vision that the water was brown and foaming. That never was the case. The water was cleaner than some parts of the creek,” he says.

According to Yabroff, the violations occurred during the start-up of the facility and standards are currently being met.

He says “millions of dollars” went to upgrading the plant’s treatment system and more will be spent.

“There are several people who were in charge of environmental compliance who are no longer here,” he says. “I’m not saying they were at fault, but we did make changes.”

Because the water permit expires in July and Center Creek has low levels of flow at various times, BioFuel must find a different discharge location.

Their solution: building a 17-mile pipeline to haul the plant’s wastewater to the Blue Earth River, either north of Blue Earth or just south of Winnebago.

Yabroff is confident once details of the project are explained, the public will realize the river will be impacted very little.

“It’s important for us to be a good neighbor,” he says. “We have a lot of employees and customers in Faribault County. The residents there are extremely important to us.”

The company has hired ProSource Technologies, Inc. to help identify the best route for the pipeline.

Yabroff estimates the cost will be around $5 to $6 million.

The 8-inch plastic pipe would be installed 6 to 10 feet below the ground surface in most areas and haul about 350 gallons of water per minute. Daily, the ethanol plant discharges some 500,000 gallons of water used to cool fermentors.