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Corn Plus ready to pay fine

By Staff | Oct 9, 2011

Mark Drake

Two Corn Plus officials say the company is ready to accept whatever penalty results from the latest legal problem facing the Winnebago ethanol producer.

“We will plead guilty. We know there will be a fine and we’ll pay it. We just want to move forward,” says Mark Drake, general manager of the plant.

“It’s black and white. We did report inaccuracies,” he adds.

The company has been charged with “felony information” for allegedly reporting that its pollution control equipment was working properly in late January when it was not.

The charge filed in federal court in Minneapolis on Sept. 30 says Corn Plus knowingly violated the Clean Air Act.

Drake and chief financial officer Mark Oberle took issue with a Twin Cities news story that the company was allowing excessive discharges into the air.

“There are no allegations or evidence of any actual unpermitted pollution emissions or discharges,” he says. “There is no evidence Corn Plus was responsible for polluting the environment in any way.”

Oberle adds, “People must be thinking, ‘What are those criminals doing down there?’ That’s not the case at all.”

Drake says he didn’t become aware of the alleged record-keeping issues until March, when company officials were served a subpoena to testify before a grand jury.

Shortly after, Drake and Oberle conducted their own internal investigation.

“It took two months going over some 10,000 pages,” says Drake.“As a result, we fired the three people involved.”

Corn Plus officials shared their finding with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“Our investigation found and identified some things. We are going to do the right thing, that’s all there is to it,” says Oberle. “We’ve always tried to be a good corporate citizen and will continue to do so.”

The company has hired an environmental, health and safety manager and also hired Golder Associates of Minneapolis to deal with compliance issues and conduct regular audits.

Drake says the company is working on an agreement with the MPCA and EPA, but he would not give any details of what has been discussed.

Rather than concentrating on “negative energy of the past,” Drake says changes at Corn Plus will address environmental obligations.

He says upgrades to the facility totaling $21 million will be done in the next nine months to improve profitability.

“We’re doing a lot of good things here. From this point forward we’re making sure we’re dotting all the “i’s” and crossing all the “t’s,” Drake says.