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Fairland preps for next round with ethanol company

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Brett Yerdon from POETLLCaddressed questions from an audience of75-80 people in Fairland concerned about the ethanol plant POET wants to build near the small community. Brian Asher, executive director of the Shelby County Development Corp., the local economic development organization, middle, and Shelbyville Mayor Tom DeBaun also responded to audience questions Tuesday evening.
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A crowd of 75-80 people turned out in Fairland on Tuesday evening to hear from local officials and a company representative about an ethanol manufacturing plant POETLLC wants to build nearby.The proposal is to go before the Shelbyville Plan Commission on July 23.

By JOHN WALKER - jwalker@shelbynews.com

FAIRLAND — Area residents worried about a proposed ethanol manufacturing plant intend to voice their concerns at an upcoming meeting of the Shelbyville Plan Commission.

But first, questions about the project are to be sent to the Shelbyville mayor’s office.

POET LLC, based in South Dakota, wants to build the ethanol plant on 145 acres located on County Road 300 North a short distance west of Tom Hession Drive.

The site is about 2 miles southeast of Fairland and about the same distance northwest of Shelbyville’s Northridge Industrial Park.

About 75 to 80 people gathered in a hot, stuffy meeting room at the Fairland town hall Tuesday evening to voice their concerns about the plan.

“This is why we’re here, to inform you,” said Carrie Ridgeway, a Shelbyville resident who has relatives living in Fairland.

A number of people in the audience spoke about their concerns ranging from the smell and potentially noxious emissions from the plant to traffic problems and the fear of an explosion of the ethanol, which is a fuel additive to gasoline distilled from corn.

Pat Haney, a teacher, said he went to POET’s existing plant in Alexandria, Indiana, and there was a distinct odor.

“If you can smell the plant, you’re breathing it,” he said.

Several in the crowd complained about the lack of transparency in the project, saying they were informed only at the 11th hour of plans to build the ethanol plant.

The audience was not pleased with Shelbyville Mayor Tom DeBaun’s response.

“This was not backdoored,” he said, which drew loud jeers from the crowd.

Brian Asher, a member of the Shelbyville City Council and executive director of the Shelby County Development Corp., the county’s local economic development organization, cited confidentiality agreements that officials had to sign regarding the project.

POET representative Brett Yerdon said the project was kept underwraps so the company’s competitors wouldn’t become aware of it.

“It’s been confidential not because we wanted to keep this from the public,” he said.

Another loud reaction came when a man in the audience asked why the company didn’t want to build the plant in Shelbyville’s Northridge Industrial Park.

Yerdon replied that POET felt it was too close to a residential area, prompting an outburst of laughter from the Fairland crowd.

“We’re not residents?” someone in the audience said.

Traffic in and out of the proposed facility was also a big concern of those in the audience.

Yerdon said Tom Hession Drive would be the main route into and out of the facility. The drive runs between County Roads 300 North and 400 North, also known as Fairland Road.

One hundred trucks per day typically enter and leave a facility the size of the one proposed, and during corn harvest times, that number could reach 200 per day, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., he said. 

“Traffic is one area where we can help,” Yerdon said, and the company will be glad to work with local officials and residents to address the issue.

Explosion of the ethanol was also a concern, and residents wanted to know what the blast radius would be given that the MHP Medical Center, Indiana Grand Racing & Casino and Interstate 74 were nearby.

Yerdon did acknowledge that there have been accidents at other POET plants, and two deaths have resulted.

As for plant emissions, only water vapor and clean carbon dioxide are released, he said.

POET currently has air quality and water quality applications pending with the Indiana Development of Environmental Management.

In May, the Shelby County Commissioners voted to turn over planning authority for the project to the city of Shelbyville since the POET property is to be annexed into the city.

POET is due to go before the Shelbyville Plan Commission on July 23.

A premeeting, open to the public, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. immediately prior to the Plan Commission’s regular meeting at 7 p.m.

The meetings are to be held in Shelbyville City Hall, 44 W. Washington St.

Mayor DeBaun said questions about the project may be submitted to him at that address or by email - mayor@cityofshelbyvillein.com.