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Proposed ethanol plant riles homeowners
Indiana Correspondent

ARGOS, Ind. — When Mark Twain said the difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug, he perfectly described the adjective that delayed the Marshall County Plan Commission’s August 24 public hearing on a rezoning request by Indiana Renewable Fuels (IRF).

IRF, a wholly owned subsidiary of Advanced BioEnergy, LLC, wants 173 acres of land south of Argos, a town with a population of 1,600 located 30 miles from South Bend, for a proposed 100 million gallon per year ethanol plant. Legal advertising said the rezoning was from agricultural to light industrial instead of heavy industrial. /p>

Because the incorrect wording delayed the hearing until September 11, it sent more than 80 opponents of the proposed site home more determined than ever to fight what they see as a threat to their way of life.

“The only people they contacted were the farmers selling out to them,” one homeowner grumbled. “Those of us living next to them on one or two acres of land didn’t receive notices.”

Earl Nifong, Arthur Morrill, Bill and Penny Davis, Donald and Alpha Kauffman, Tom and Lisa Overmyer and Arthur and Wanda Overmyer own the Argos-area land.

Their willingness to sell has prompted neighbors to post protest signs and draw battle lines. “Good neighbors stick together!” one sign argues. Others protest the ethanol plant’s possible location but not the plant itself. Many residents believe ethanol is a desirable alternative fuel; they just don’t want a plant in their backyard.

“This is a quiet, peaceful, clean neighborhood,” said Kenny Hamman, whose house is a few feet from a cornfield that would become part of the site. “Surely, they could find some place more feasible.”

With about 13 homes adjacent to the proposed site and as many as 45 homeowners feeling threatened, most of Hamman’s neighbors agree.

Carol Bibler, who has lived in her home at the corner of 18 C and Michigan Roads for the past 32 years, worries about noise and increased truck traffic on rural roads frequented by Amish farmers and pedestrians. And accidents. “Should there be an explosion at the plant,” she said, “Argos doesn’t have the equipment to handle it.”

Others are concerned about prospective wells needed to feed the plant with up to 1.55 million gallons of water per day.

Glen Bode, IRF president and project manager who continually assures residents that the ethanol plant wants to be a good neighbor, said test wells would determine water production. “We’ll know whether it will be enough to meet the plant’s needs,” he said. An engineer for Weaver Boos, Chicago, added, “We’re not going to dry up anyone’s well. This is a controlled situation.”

In spite of that, homeowners fear wells could draw bad water out of County Line Landfill, located a few miles south in Fulton County on the Fulton-Marshall County line.

“Why don’t they (IRF) go to Fulton County where they’re wanted?” one homeowner demanded.

That is a question asked by many.

In July of this year, a study paid for by Fulton Economic Development Corporation showed Fulton County to be a likely place in which to locate an ethanol plant. Fulton County officials have approved rezoning of a 430-acre site east of County Line Landfill (located at the intersection of SR 110 and Michigan Road), begun the work of designating a Tax Incremental Financing District and explored bond issues to finance the project.

IRF, headquartered at the Fulton Co. 4-H Fairgrounds, 1007 W. Third St., Rochester, has made no similar requests to Marshall County officials.

The Fulton County site is seen by many as being the best for several reasons - availability of land on which houses have been vacated because of odors coming from the landfill, proximity to the landfill - expected to supply methane gas to power the plant at either location - and a population less dense than the one surrounding the Marshall County site.

“We’re giving due diligence to both sites,” Bode said. “We like the Argos location because it has good transportation access.”

Both sites are located on Michigan Road, which, until the U.S. 31 bypass went in, was U.S. 31, but each offers a different rail situation, an important factor since, statistically, one railcar can carry the equivalent of two and one-half semis.

An engineer from Fagen, Inc., a Minnesota firm specializing in renewable energy development, told Fulton County residents earlier this year that the selected site would require a mile of uninterrupted railroad. While the actual number of sidings needed has yet to be determined, many believe rail transportation to be the primary reason IRF is looking at the Argos site.

Norfolk-Southern Railroad, already serving two new facilities in nearby Kosciusko County - the North Central Co-Op Service Center near Mentone and the still under construction Louis-Dreyfus biodiesel plant near Claypool - would serve the Argos site. The Fulton County Railroad, a 15-mile privately owned freight line running from Rochester to Marshall Co. Road 18 where it ties into the Norfolk-Southern, would serve the Fulton Co. site. FCRR currently has only one customer, Wilson Fertilizer and Grain, Rochester.

IRF wants to purchase the line but FCRR owners do not want to sell. One of them, Jeff Zent of Wilson Fertilizer and Grain, declined to name the other owners but said ownership isn’t limited to Wilson. The son-in-law of the late Tom Wilson, a member of the original IRF board of directors, Zent disputed claims that it would cost $6 million to improve the line.

“It would take around $2 million dollars to rehab the line,” he said. “We don’t have a problem with the ethanol plant. We just don’t want to sell our line.”

Bode declined comment on how much FCRR affected IFR’s decision to look at the Argos site.

In the meantime, neighbors fearful of the impact of a plant dumping 36 million tons of corn a year, which would require the combined total of Fulton and Marshall counties production plus that from another county of similar size, continue to worry about noise, smell, the plant’s lights and its future.

“What happens if the ethanol plant closes?” Larry Bibler asked. “It would leave a huge eyesore. Who knows how much gas we’ll need for cars of the future? We may not need as much as they plan to manufacture.”

He and others will air their concerns at the Sept. 11 meeting, set for 7 p.m. at Argos High School.

Both Marshall County and Town of Argos planning commissions are involved since part of the 173 acres is within the Argos zoning jurisdiction.

Plans continue
While Bode will not reveal the build date or the project schedule, he said timeliness is important.

“We have a build date we want to keep. We’re optimistic this project is going forward. Site selection is the big issue right now,” he said.

In that regard, he is in perfect agreement with Carol Bibler, who believes site selection is everything. “We don’t have to sell,” she said, “but we don’t want to live next door to an ethanol plant. We intend to fight this however we can.”

This farm news was published in the Sept. 6, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.