River dumping issue rages on
Officials from the Buffalo Lake Energy (BLE) ethanol plant near Fairmont were back in Faribault County explaining their plan for dumping waste water into the Blue Earth River.
But, this time they were not appearing before the Faribault County Board of Commissioners. Instead, they gave an hour-long presentation to the members of the Greater Blue Earth River Basin Authority’s (GBERBA) policy committee.
The GBERBA committee was meeting in Blue Earth on Friday, March 11, and arranged to have the BLE presentation added to their agenda. GBERBA is composed of county commissioners, township supervisors and Soil and Water Conservation District personnel from the nine counties which have land that drains into the Blue Earth River.
Richard Yabroff, environmental engineer for BLE, went into much more detail than he had last month before the Faribault County Commissioners.
As before, Yabroff stressed the fact that the water is not environmentally hazardous, and that it is currently going into the Blue Earth River via Center Creek.
The difference now is, BLE is seeking a permit from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to send the water directly to the Blue Earth River via a 17-mile long pipeline.
At the GBERBA meeting, Yabroff went into more detail as to what other options were explored, what exactly is in the discharge water, and why it is necessary to pipe it to the river.
He cited higher costs of other options as the main factor for seeking approval for the pipeline.
Yabroff also told the GBERBA group that the discharge water is clear and non-toxic to fish and wildlife. In fact, he says, the water will probably improve the quality of the Blue Earth River, rather than harm it.
Yabroff also explained the pipeline in greater detail, saying the plan actually has nine different possible routes, with the final one yet to be determined.
He also says the plan originally called for an eight-inch pipe, but now is being increased to a 12-inch pipe. More than a half million gallons of water a day will be pumped. Cost of the project will be $7 million.
Members of the GBERBA board questioned Yabroff as to the specific content of the water, and why other options were not considered.
One of those suggestions was to dump the water in Martin County, either in the City of Fairmont water treatment system or into a lake.
Yabroff says neither option is viable and explained why. BLE’s waste water does not need to be treated, Yabroff says. And, regulations prevent dumping into the lake.
“This pipeline is our best option,” he says. “We looked in detail at five options, and this is the one that makes sense to do.”
Michele Stindtman of the Faribault County Soil and Water Conservation District office, brought up another issue.
“No one is talking about the fact that a half million gallons a day of our clean water resource is leaving our area,” Stindtman says. “It is pumped from an aquifer, used for cooling and then dumped into the river, where it leaves the area.”
Stindtman says it would be much better to have a storage process and get the water back into the local groundwater system – where it can be used again.
“We ran some figures and the half million gallons a day is like having a 20-acre slough that is two feet deep which is emptied and refilled 14 times a year,” she says. “That is a lot of water. It is disturbing to me that no one is upset that this water is leaving the area.”
No vote or action on the BLE pipeline issue was taken at the GBERBA meeting.
River dumping issue rages on
Faribault County is imposing a moratorium on pipelines, any activities or operations that would discharge wastewater into protected waters in the county.
In an unanimous vote, commissioners approved an interim ordinance during a public hearing held Thursday in Blue Earth.
“It may seem like we’re picking on this ethanol plant. It’s not the case. This will let us research the impact on the river and what we need to do,” says board Chairman Tom Warmka. “I’ve got no axe to grind or hatchet to bury.”“
Buffalo Lake Energy is proposing building a 17-mile pipeline from its Fairmont ethanol plant to dispose water used for cooling into the Blue Earth River in Faribault County.
The moratorium will be in effect for one year to allow a study of discharged wastewater and its effects on protected waters to be completed in 180 days or less.
Rick Yabroff, director of environmental, health and safety for BioFuel, Buffalo Lake’s parent company, says he was disappointed with the board’s action.
“We presented our side and facts to the commissioners, but that appears to have not been considered,” he says. “I need to go back and talk with our lawyers to see what this means to us. There are a lot of legal issues involved.”
Buffalo Lake currently discharges its wastewater into a ditch that flows into Center Creek and then into the Blue Earth River.
Because the creek sometimes runs dry, there is a potential for environmental problems.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has told the company they must find an alternative way to handle its wastewater because their variance permit will be expiring in July.
Commissioner Tom Loveall defended the moratorium, saying it is needed because the county is facing a new issue.
“We’re looking at something that hasn’t happened before in the county. There are enough questions about health and safety issues that merit this and it is very appropriate to study this,” he says.
Former commissioner Loren Lein supported the board’s decision.
Lein says so far he has collected more than 700 signatures on petitions opposing the pipeline.
“I have yet to have a person in favor of dumping (wastewater) into the river,” he says. “I commend the commissioners for looking into it and I think the moratorium will be a beneficial thing.“
Sherwood Krosch told the commissioners the issue is being taken “entirely too lightly.“
Holding a photograph of his grandchildren with fish caught in the river, Krosch talked about the quality of life it provides.
“I hope the river will stay in that condition,” he says. “I don’t know how many companies could responsibly do something like this.“
Kathy Bailey, city administrator of Blue Earth, cautioned the board to look at other issues and how the moratorium would affect local businesses.
Bailey questioned what the impact would be on storm and sanitary repair projects.
“I’m concerned it will restrict normal repairs and maintenance,” she says.
County Attorney Troy Timmerman reassured Bailey the city or businesses would not be affected after seeking the opinion of a land use attorney hired by the county.
Loveall says the study will be conducted by the county’s Planning Commission and staff of Faribault County Soil & Water Conservation District Office headed by Michele Stindtman.
Loveall did not rule out the need to hire outside consulting firms.