By Tom Larson
Officials of the DENCO ethanol plant have been working to get the plant in operation again since it shut down in early 2009.
The Stevens County Board of Commissioner gave its OK to one hurdle DENCO is attempting to clear, but it's still not a done-deal that the plant will be able to resume production.
Larry Heintzelman, a construction supervisor for Greenway Consulting, an arm of DENCO, met with the board on Tuesday to discuss water discharge issues related to plant operations.
Because of changes in Minnesota Pollution Control Agency regulations, DENCO is no longer allowed to discharge water used in production into a wetland near the plant.
In light of the rules change, DENCO is seeking to pump water south of the plant to the Pomme de Terre River. The tentative plan would require the county to allow DENCO to install water lines in road ditches and through two county roads. Easements from private property owners also would need to be obtained, Heintzelman said.
The plan is in its early stages of development and the MPCA has not reviewed them, he said.
Even with the county's consensus blessing, "there's no guarantee this will be the remedy (the MPCA) will let us use," he said.
DENCO, which was sold by private investors to the energy company Babcock and Brown in January 2006, was shut down in January 2009. Company officials said the high costs of running the plant had made continued operations economically unfeasible.
Efforts to restart the plant have intensified in recent months, but there are no guarantees, Heintzelman said.
"There are a couple of things in the works but there is no definite timeline right now, he said.
A sale might need to come together soon or Babcock and Brown may be forced to permanently close the plant, Heintzelman said.
A solution to water discharge is key.
"This is the biggest thing right here," he said.
Since the plant suspended operations, the MPCA regulations for the discharge of waste water have changed and DENCO can no longer discharge the water into the wetlands, Heintzelman said.
The water is used in the plant's reverse osmosis process and is not sewer water. But while it is relatively clean water, it must be discharged into a water supply that has adequate flow rates to allow for greater levels of dilution of "suspended solids." Because of that requirement, a DENCO proposal to discharge water into the Green River, which has a lower flow rate, was not allowed by the MPCA. A process to essentially evaporate the water and ship the remaining solid material out on trucks would be too expensive, Heintzelman said.
DENCO's Pomme de Terre River plan calls for 6-inch pipe to be run at a depth of about seven feet south along County Road 22 and then under Highway 59. DENCO would need to obtain two half-mile easements on private land, and then continue the line south to the river in road ditches along County Road 59.
Two miles of the 3-1/2-mile line would run in county road ditches, Heintzelman said.
The county requested that it receive an update when the plan was more developed. Commissioners also will require DENCO to obtain the private property easements.
Heintzelman said DENCO hopes the Pomme de Terre River plans are approved but that an alternative hasn't been fleshed out should they be denied.
"We'll buy ourselves some time, have a plan in place and hope for the best in this deal," he said.