Fertilizer plant zoning approved

Fertilizer plant zoning approved by David Lias Clay County voters handed a victory to Brad Trudeau and the Clay County Commission Tuesday.

With an approval rating of nearly 62 percent, they voted to uphold a decision made by the Clay County Commission to change the zoning of seven acres of Trudeau's land from agriculture to industrial.

The zoning change is needed so that Trudeau can build a fertilizer plant at the site.

But it's too early to celebrate.

Trudeau and the county commission have yet another hurdle before them � a court appeal filed by Roger A. Hansen, who owns land adjacent to Trudeau's 40 acres in Riverside Township.

Late last summer, the Clay County Commission, after holding two public hearings and receiving input, decided to approve Trudeau's application to change the zoning of the site of his proposed plant.

The commission passed an ordinance that changes the zoning of the plant's site from A-1 (agricultural district) to I-2 (industrial district).

That decision ended up to be the driving force behind Hansen's court action and Tuesday's vote in the county.

Citizens concerned that the fertilizer plant, if constructed, would pose a threat to the environment and to ground water, filed petitions with over 400 signatures referring the commission's decision to a public vote.

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Despite a recent blitz of advertising and letters in the Plain Talk and Wakonda Times, the vote garnered little public attention. Less than 14 percent of the county's registered voters cast ballots Tuesday.

Trudeau is grateful for the support shown for his plans to start a new business in the county.

"I would like to thank the residents of Clay County for their decision," he said in a written statement Wednesday. "We were confident that they would do what was right to support local government, agriculture and free enterprise in Clay County."

Trudeau noted that Riverside Township is an appropriate place for his proposed business. "This type of business is ag-related and should be in an area where its products and services are required," he said. "I decided on this area over an industrial park to lessen the exposure to the citizens of highly populated areas."

Trudeau wants to build his fertilizer plant on property 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.

A major fear voiced by opponents of the plant's site is that a catastrophe could lead to a spill of chemicals that would eventually flow south approximately two miles to the Clay Rural Water wellhead, and also possibly pollute a major underground aquifer that is the source of water for many of the county's rural residents.

Stan Pence and Derrick Iles of the Geological Survey Program at The University of South Dakota, appeared before both the county commission and the Vermillion City Council last fall and noted that, in many ways, the site Trudeau has chosen for his fertilizer plant has merit.

Iles said the fertilizer plant will 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."

Trudeau was appreciative Wednesday of the research and deliberation done by the local planning and zoning board, the county commission and the Geological Survey Program.

"We need to trust the local governments' decision to do what is right for Clay County," he said.

Citizens residing in every rural voting precinct in the county showed overwhelming support for the zone change. It also is supported in Wakonda and the northwest and southeast wards of Vermillion.

The only areas where the negative votes outnumbered the positive are the northeast and central wards of Vermillion, and Irene.

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