Ethanol byproduct storage raises a stink around small community

Published: Feb. 7, 2020 at 10:02 PM CST
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We’ve all seen ethanol on gas pumps. But after it’s produced there’s a byproduct left behind that can smell. It’s called distillers grain and when the air isn’t still, Jody Weible smells the storage pile a half-mile away.

Jody Weible said, ”It’s definitely within sniffing distance. I come out here to do yard work and I can barely breathe.”

The byproduct from the AltEn ethanol plant is stored on top of land close to a busy Saunders County road. AltEn ethanol plant manager Scott Tingelhoff said, “If anybody has concerns I think the good neighbor way to handle it is to communicate with them and to talk about it.”

Tingelhoff says after starch is removed from the corn to make ethanol the byproduct piled here called distillers grain still has value. Tingelhoff said, “Ultimately what it’s going to be used for is an alternative fuel source”

But state environmental regulators aren’t buying it. A violation notice from Department of Environment and Energy dated January 30th states

AltEn has not provided any evidence there is a viable market or use for these materials.

Mead area resident John Schnell said, “It’s actually just a waste and they need to go ahead and start hauling it off. If they’re going to produce it then have a plan to take care of it”

And there’s a concern of effects under the pile. Mead area resident Brenda Halbmeier said, ”Pesticides and fungicides and it's sitting on top of the aquifer that provides water to everyone southeast of here.”

The plant manager says those concerns are being addressed. Tingelhoff said, “We are putting in a groundwater monitoring system so from that standpoint we don’t really have concerns.”

The state is demanding that by March 1st the company starts disposing of the solid waste also known as "wet cake" and by March 2021 all of it must be removed from the site.

Jody Weible said, ”I want it out, gone.”

Plant Manager Tingelhoff said, “A time frame? I don’t know if it’s going to be weeks or months but it won’t be years.”

After receiving the state notice the plant manager told us the company will continue to work with regulatory agencies and look forward to resolving any issues they may have.