Zone change referred to public vote; Commission agrees to hold special election Nov. 21 by David Lias Voters in Clay County will be going to the polls twice in November.
Besides participating in the general election Nov. 7, county citizens will have the opportunity on Nov. 21 to decide if a fertilizer plant can be constructed in Riverside Township.
Brad Trudeau of Centerville plans to construct 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.
The Clay County Commission recently changed the zoning of Trudeau's property from agricultural to industrial to allow the construction to take place.
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.
On Sept. 19, petitions were filed with Clay County Auditor Ruth Brunick's office referring the county's decision to a public vote.
Citizens had to gather 426 valid signatures to refer the issue to a vote. Brunick said Tuesday that her office has confirmed that the petitions contain 449 signatures.
Brunick asked commissioners Tuesday for permission to set up two voting precincts in the county for the special election. She wanted to place one polling place at the National Guard Armory in Vermillion for Vermillion city residents, and a second polling place at the 4-H Center at the Clay County Fairgrounds for rural residents.
Brunick said the special
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election likely will attract fewer voters than the Nov. 7 general election, and setting up only two polling places would cut expenses.
Commissioners feared, however, that reducing the number of voting precincts would confuse voters. They also noted that residents of the northern part of the county would have a longer drive than usual to vote on Nov. 21 if their polling place was placed in Vermillion.
The commission agreed that the voting precincts for the special election should be the same as the Nov. 7 general election, despite higher costs.
The petitions calling for a special election to refer the county's zoning decision to a public votes were filed a day after Derrick Iles and Stan Pence, state geologists with the Geological Survey Program at The University of South Dakota, told the Vermillion City Council that the fertilizer plant poses no great environmental threat.
Iles noted Sept. 18 that the fertilizer plant, if constructed, would be resting on a thick bed of clay, and added that water in the aquifer in that region moves very slowly.
Should a catastrophic spill occur at the fertilizer plant, Iles said, "it would have to soak through the clays and the silts that are present at the land surface out there, and then get down to the water table, and assuming that it did that, then it would have start migrating in the direction of the groundwater flow."
If the spill flowed in a straight line in a southerly direction from the plant site, "the best estimate that we have at this point in time is that it would take 25 years for the water to get that far, and that's why our opinion is that there is no real imminent threat to the Clay Rural Water well field."
If a spill occurred, there would be ample time for people to respond. Mother Nature would also help.
"There would be a tremendous amount of dilution that would go on, there would be biological activity that would help to degrade the contaminants into something else less harmful, so there are a lot of reasons we are not concerned."
The Vermillion River, located south of the proposed plant site, also acts as a discharge point for shallow ground water. "You have a natural barrier to shallow contaminants," Iles said.
He added that the fertilizer plant poses virtually no threat to the aquifer that the city of Vermillion taps for water. "You're probably looking at greater than 600 years of travel time for a spill to get down here."