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Corn Plus fined $760,000

By Staff | Nov 27, 2011

Mark Drake

Corn Plus of Winnebago has agreed to pay two fines totaling more than $750,000 to resolve violations of an air-quality permit.

“It’s the final, final chapter of all of it and the end of a long road. We are a company of good people and are moving forward,” says Mark Drake, general manager of the ethanol plant.

On Wednesday, Drake and Corn Plus board president Bill Drager attended a plea hearing in Federal District Court in Minneapolis before U.S. District Court Judge John R. Tunheim.

Company officials pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements in violation of the federal Clean Air Act.

“We paid the fine of $450,000 following the hearing. The company also was placed on three years probation,” says Drake.

Other conditions of probation include implementing internal compliance monitoring systems and company-wide training requirements.

Last September, Corn Plus was charged with “felony information” for allegedly reporting that its pollution control equipment was working properly in late January when it was not.

In the plea agreement, company officials admitted that in a January 2011 report they failed to disclose on multiple occasions between July and December 2010 that air pressure readings were outside the permit’s parameters.

In addition, the company admitted making false statements in reports submitted in 2009 and 2010.

“We’ve taken all the steps we need to take to make sure we’re not back in court again,” Drake says.

“The three people involved were fired. We have moved forward,” he adds.

The company has hired an environmental, health and safety manager and a consultant to deal with compliance issues and conduct regular audits.

Corn Plus also has reached an agreement with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) for violating the state’s air-quality permit.

As a result, the company will pay a $310,000 fine.

The violations which occurred from 2008 to 2010 were discovered when MPCA staff conducted on-site inspections and analysis of monitoring data provided by the company.

“We’ll pay the fine as soon as we get the signed document back,” says Drake.

Plans for $21 million in upgrades to the facility have taken a first step.

A 30-day public review period for an air emission permit has begun with an official publication in a local newspaper.

Drake says $16 million of the total improvements involves installation of a dryer.

The changes are expected to address the company’s environmental obligations and improve its profitability.

In January 2010, Corn Plus reached an $891,000 settlement with the MPCA and also agreed to pay $150,000 as a result of an agreement reached with the Environmental Protection Agency in 2009 for water-quality violations.