County approves zoning for controversial fertilizer plant

County approves zoning for controversial fertilizer plant by David Lias A Centerville man survived a firestorm of controversy Tuesday and is one step closer to constructing a fertilizer plant in Riverside Township.

The Clay County Commission approved, on its first reading, an ordinance that will change the zoning of Brad Trudeau's proposed plant's site from A-1 (agricultural district) to I-2 (industrial district).

Over 60 citizens attended the meeting, making it necessary for the hearing to be held in the basement of the courthouse. A few people in the audience indicated support for Trudeau, but a majority of people at Tuesday's meeting appeared to be concerned about the impact the plant may have on the environment, particularly on ground water.

Trudeau's plans have sparked concerns among residents of both rural Clay County and the city of Vermillion. He wants to build his fertilizer plant on property just east of the former site of the Seven Mile Station, located approximately two miles north of one of the well heads that is a water source for Clay Rural Water.

Citizens have expressed concern that an accidental chemical spill at the plant could contaminate both the Vermillion River and shallow underground aquifers in the region.

Trudeau, who operates Centerville Ag, told commissioners that contemporary guidelines designed to protect surface and ground water will be used in the construction of his proposed facility.

"I've been in the fertilizer business for 25 years both for local co-ops and major corporations," he said. "I have a lot of experience. One reason we picked this location is we feel we are better off to protect the public at this location, and other regulatory agencies that I need to go to, such as the Department of Agriculture, regulates what I can do and how I do it, and requires that I do it in a safe way to protect the environment."

Trudeau said he was requesting to have property rezoned to I-2 because that designation allows storage of above-ground chemicals or gasoline.

He also told commissioners and the meeting audience that the state Department of Agriculture and Nohr Engineering of Yankton have developed new guidelines for construction of secondary containment and the loading, mixing and wash pads for bulk fertilizer and pesticide storage facilities.

Trudeau added that fertilizer and pesticide containment systems are regulated by the state and designed to prevent leaking and spilling of products into the environment.

"The containment area must be capable of containing 125 percent of the largest volume tank inside the area," he said. "The South Dakota Department of Ag requires monitoring and leak detection systems under the contaminant areas. Monthly records of monitoring are required for the life of the facility."

Trudeau said such a system is proven to protect the environment. He provided commissioners with information about a fertilizer and mixing plant in Bridgewater that was struck by a tornado in 1992. The design of the plant, he said, kept 3,200 gallons of chemicals within the facility's containment area and didn't harm the environment.

"It's a proven system," he said.

Trudeau noted that he is proposing to build his plant in a region that is not heavily populated. "That's one reason that we picked this area," he said, noting that if the plant were located near the municipality, the

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public would likely be at greater risk in the case of a fire or catastrophe.

He also read a list of facts in support of the plant's construction. They include:

* Clay Rural Water has stated this rezoning poses no immediate threat to its ground water supply.

* The U.S. Geological Survey has stated there is no threat unless an accident or catastrophe occurs and products are released outside of the containment area.

* Traffic problems will be no greater than what is required to harvest 1,500 acres of farmland.

* Data shows the subsoil at the proposed site consists of a thick layer of clay between the surface and the underlying aquifer.

It was noted that State's Attorney Tami Bern has indicated that the zoning change would not constitute spot zoning. She clarified her decision.

"Spot zoning is defined as the granting of a zoning classification on a piece of land that differs from that of other land in the immediate area," Bern said, "and in some cases, it is illegal to spot zone."

Constructing a Wal-Mart in the middle of a large residential area, for example, is an example of illegal spot zoning, she said.

"But the findings that I requested that they (the county commission) make if they wish to consider this would be that they need to determine whether the purpose for the zoning is consistent with other uses in the area," Bern said, "and whether the proposed reclassification will confer a public benefit or serve the public."

Dan Fox, a Yankton attorney representing Trudeau, told citizens that further environmental impact studies on the proposed site can't be started by the state Department of Agriculture and other agencies until building permits are issued.

"In the bureaucracy of how this goes, Brad can't get pre-approval from these agencies," Fox said. "He has to go through the zoning approval and permit. At that time, that's when they will come in and do a study. Today (Tuesday) he has to meet the first step."

Derrick Iles, a state geologist with the Geological Survey Program at The University of South Dakota, noted that both Clay Rural Water and the city of Vermillion tap into the aquifer located near the fertilizer plant's proposed site. He added that the clay subsoil in the area of the building site makes it a better place for such a facility than other some areas of the county.

Iles said he and another hydrologist talked about the fertilizer plant issue at a recent meeting of the Clay Rural Water Board of Directors.

"I think my words to the board were something like we don't see any major red flags go up in terms of being terribly worried that this facility would pollute the Clay Rural Water System well field. But should they be concerned about what goes on around them? Absolutely," Iles said. "Not only with facilities like this, but with truck traffic on Highway 19 and east and west on some of the gravel roads as well as the application of fertilizers and pesticides on the fields.

"Clay Rural Water System has in fact experienced contamination of their well field, and they did it to themselves," he added. "But they took care of it, and they haven't had a problem since."

It's important, Iles said, to be concerned about issues that may negatively affect the environment. "But would I lose sleep over this facility a mile-and-half north? No. Because I know that the Department of Agriculture has some pretty stringent rules and regulations in terms of the construction of these facilities."

Roger Hansen, who owns farmland near the proposed fertilizer plant site, told the commission he is concerned about the potential contamination of the aquifer.

"I'm not opposed at all to Brad getting into the fertilizer business," Hansen said, noting that his main concern is the plant's location.

Hansen told county commissioners that despite all of the regulations that Trudeau must meet from the state Department of Agriculture, an inference has been made that the department will determine the suitability of the site.

He said a department official told him Tuesday by phone that the department does not get involved in site evaluation or approval. Such evaluation must be done at the local level.

Hansen said that Brad Berven of the state Department of Agriculture told him that compliance with containment rules also does not provide an absolute guarantee that there is no possibility of contaminating an aquifer, but rather is designed to minimize risks.

"There is no way of guaranteeing that you can't contaminate that aquifer in some way, even though you've followed the regulations to the letter," Hansen said.

He told commissioners that the ultimate decision about the site would be up to them. If Trudeau is successful at complying with state regulations, Hansen said, it doesn't mean the state has given the project its blessings and the county commission no longer has to worry about it.

Hansen said a catastrophic release of chemicals at the site could escape any containment facility and eventually flow into the Vermillion River or into the aquifer.

The zoning ordinance will come before the county commission again on Aug. 29 for its final reading.

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