Champaign Council votes to annex land for ethanol plant

By David Just

The Champaign City Council voted 6-3 in favor of annexing the property for the Andersons’ ethanol plant Tuesday night. The ruling was met with mixed reactions from Champaign residents.

While the plant will provide new jobs and increase the price of corn on local farms, some worry about the negative effects the plant might have on the environment.

Councilwoman Marci Dodds, one of the three council members to vote against the annexation, is concerned the Mahomet Aquifer cannot handle the ethanol plant’s requirement of 1.8 million gallons of water per day.

Dodds calculated that each gallon of water the plant uses brings in exactly three one-hundredths of a penny – not enough to make the plant worth the cost.

“This is a tiny, short-term gain for a potentially massive cost,” she said.

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Dodds was joined by council members Gina Jackson and Giraldo Rosales in voting against the annexation. The three agreed that without a conclusive study regarding the aquifer’s ability to handle the increased water usage, they will not support the construction of the plant.

“I cannot sell the future down the line for economic prosperity,” Rosales said.

Speaking with the majority, Councilman Michael La Due argued the issue is not about the environment or the viability of ethanol as a renewable energy source. Instead, it is an issue of whether or not the city should annex the land.

Both La Due and councilman Ken Pirok said they share a concern for the aquifer, but feel the information the Andersons’ have supplied is enough to confidently annex the land and allow the plant to be built.

Pirok said the construction is going to take place anyway, and the plant will use water from the aquifer all the same. So at least by annexing the property and locating the plant within Champaign, the city can have control of it, he added.

The Andersons Agriservices, Inc., an Ohio-based company, intends to build the plant south of State Route 150 and west of Staley Road, adjacent to the company’s grain elevator operation.

Champaign resident Mark Chu, who lives near the proposed construction site, asked the council to vote against the annexation.

“I’m sure it’s well intentioned, but our main concern is the hostile environmental effects,” he said.

If the project proceeds, the plant would produce 110 million gallons of ethanol annually. It is still up for approval by the Andersons’ Board of Directors, but could be operational as soon as mid-2008, according to a release from the Andersons.