September 25, 2008

Ethanol Plant Planners Leave City of Prairie Du Chien Out of Process

By Paul Snyder

As United Cooperative targets Prairie du Chien for a new ethanol plant and Wisconsin puts money behind the project, the city is left wondering when it will be invited to the planning table.

"We haven't seen any plans, nor have there been any applications," said City Administrator Jim Gitz. "There was an informational meeting in January with investors, engineers and people interested in seeing the project happen here, but then the project went into limbo. We've heard nothing since."

Blame it on the economy, said Dori Lichty, communications manager for United, which is overseeing the plant's developer, Beaver Dam- based River Valley Energy LLC. She said planners struggled finding the money to build the plant, and it likely will stay grounded until the economy rebounds.

But last week, Gov. Jim Doyle announced a $3 million loan so United could build a rail line as well as shipping and receiving structures for grain ethanol at the plant.

Frank Huntington, supervisor of the rail projects and property management unit for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, said the state will be patient to a point as United works on putting its plan together.

"They'll only be eligible to get the money," he said, "if everything falls into place and it looks like the project is moving forward."

Even with state backing, Lichty said the company has not officially committed itself to Prairie du Chien, although it's the preferred option.

"There are some nice benefits there," she said. "In addition to the money from the state, there also is a barge-loading facility there, which would make it easy to obtain and transport inbound grain and distiller's grain."

That doesn't come as great news to Bill Gauger, a town supervisor in Arena, which was United's original pick for the ethanol plant. He said he's upset the town lost the project, but said he didn't expect another city to pick it up.

"Between the price of stainless steel and corn, I thought it would be hard to make it work anywhere," Gauger said. "We were excited about having it here. Something that large would've been able to create jobs and been a real catalyst for the area.

"I really don't see why they would build it somewhere else."

Gitz said Prairie du Chien is happy to take on the economic development opportunities the plant offers, but said there is a downside to the project.

United and River Valley are considering building the plant on the city's south side, which is near the Big River Campground. Becki Radloff, the campground's co-owner, said she supports the plant, but not in her backyard.

"I don't know much about ethanol plants," she said, "but the one I've driven by produced a horrible smell. My sister lives near one, and she says the heat it generates is horrendous.

"It would ruin my business."

There's no guarantee the plant will be built, much less placed next to Radloff's business. But when United is ready to make a proposal, Gitz said, Prairie du Chien will be ready to listen.

"We still have yet to see any coordination take place between the state, city and the developers," he said. "Residents will also have to weigh in, but we always try to give every economic development opportunity a chance."

Originally published by Paul Snyder.

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