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Published: Wednesday, 8/10/2005

Ethanol plant moving ahead despite worries

BLISSFIELD - The head of an effort to build a large ethanol plant in Blissfield said last night that his company plans to begin construction later this month, even as a number of residents gathered to voice their concerns about the plant to state environmental officials.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality scheduled last night's public hearing in the Blissfield Library to take comments on Great Lakes Ethanol LLC's application to discharge hundreds of thousands of gallons of wastewater each day into the River Raisin.

Great Lakes plans to build its 50-million-gallon ethanol plant on a 136-acre site near Silberhorn and Cemetery roads, just south of Blissfield and west of U.S. 223.

Jeff Ehlert, chairman of Great Lakes, said construction of the plant should begin by the end of the month, even though DEQ isn't expected to make a determination on the discharge permit until at least September.

DEQ officials said last night that the plant's proposed discharge would meet state water quality discharge standards.

In addition to producing ethanol - a gasoline additive made from corn - the plant also will produce food-grade carbon dioxide that will be sold as a by-product, likely to the soft drink industry.

"We'll proceed with our plans," Mr. Ehlert said after the hearing, during which less than two dozen people spoke out or asked questions about the proposed permit. "The questions that were all asked were addressed at different times in the past."

But those area residents who have consistently spoken out against the plant continued to press their case before the DEQ last night. They cited several concerns, primarily about what the proposed plant's intake and discharge would do to the quality and water level of the river where communities like Blissfield and Deerfield draw their municipal water supply.

The River Raisin "is slow and it's dirty. I'm not against this thing; I'm just not in favor of where they want to put it. I don't think the water is going to be usable after they dump into it," Deerfield resident Donald Drayton said.

"We've been reading about how polluted the river is, and now they want to add more? What about the rights of the people downstream," asked Riga resident Joan Hamilton. "I think this is a can of worms."

The company has yet to make a final determination as to where it will get its raw water.

Mr. Ehlert said Great Lakes is still negotiating with the village of Blissfield to secure treated municipal water, but the company also is proceeding with plans to draw water directly from the river if those talks don't produce an agreement.



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