Residents who live in the area of Lower Pleasant Ridge Road fear that a proposed ethanol plant could lower their property values, spoil their views and bring unwanted traffic, noise and odor to the neighborhood.
The people who live near the site have packed the room at public hearings, delivered hours of testimony, written in opposition to the plan and signed a petition all in an effort to keep the project away from their homes.
Dee and Cindy Roberts wrote a letter to the Canyon County Planning and Zoning Commission detailing how they like to sit on their patio and take in the views from their hilltop property.
According to their letter, the two chose the site on Pride Lane to build their home in 2008, because of the rural neighborhood and those views. They sit on their patio almost every summer evening, where a porch swing hangs next to potted flowers. They included in their letter pictures of what the patio and views look like now.
But that view and their time spent outside could change with the proposed project about a quarter-mile from their home.
“If there is odor, steam and noise coming from the plant, it will decrease the enjoyment of sitting on our patio, or even opening our house windows on spring and summer days,” they stated in the letter to the commission. “Our vision when building our home was not the view of two 100-foot towers with lights flashing, the likely smell of fermentation, steam and constant truck traffic in front of our home.”
Demeter Bio-Resources wants to build a 50,000-square-foot food processing plant that includes an ethanol plant near Caldwell. It will also process fertilizer, grow crops on site and conduct agricultural research.
All of those things are allowed in the M-1, light industrial zoning of the 64-acre property at 19560 Lower Pleasant Ridge Road, except for one. The ethanol plant is only permitted with a conditional use permit from the county.
Although the ethanol plant portion is small — 10 times smaller than the average size of an ethanol plant in the Midwest and seven times smaller than Idaho’s ethanol plant in the Magic Valley, according to Demeter — it has become a major roadblock for the project.
But the message from nearby residents is clear — they don’t want to live next to an ethanol plant.
“An ethanol plant belongs in an area that is zoned for ethanol plants, not in the backyards of 200 or 300 people,” Ann Hale, one of the nearby residents who is opposed to the plant, told the Press-Tribune.
Demeter doesn’t intend to be a bad neighbor and wants to work with the community to alleviate their concerns, many of which are unfounded, said Sot Chimonas, chief operating officer of Demeter.
“We don’t intend to be those kind of people,” he said. “We intend to be a good neighbor. We intend to follow guidelines and regulations, and we intend to operate under permits.”
The company picked the site in Caldwell for its project because it’s in an area zoned for industrial use. The facility will sit back about a quarter-mile from Lower Pleasant Ridge Road to be in line with other industrial facilities in the area. The portion of the property closest to the road will be used to grow crops. That portion will make up about 60 percent of the land. The property will also be lined with trees to make it more aesthetically pleasing.
All of those decisions were made to make the project a good fit at the site, Chimonas said.
The Canyon County Planning and Zoning Commission denied the permit for the project after coming to a 2-2 tied vote. It was appealed to the Canyon County Commissioners, who are scheduled to determine the project’s fate Tuesday.
Demeter Bio-Resources, based in Eagle, was formed in 2011 by Chimonas and Fanton Chuck, the company’s chief executive officer.
Demeter has a proprietary product it owns and produces called SunSpuds — a natural hybrid of sunflowers and Jerusalem artichoke.
The SunSpuds, which have been grown and in development longer than Demeter has existed, grow to over 10 feet tall and have tubers below ground that store a complex sugar called inulin, according to Demeter. More than half of the 64-acre site proposed for Demeter’s food processing facility will be used for crop farming, and the company will contract with other growers.
“We intend to have several hundred acres of it in cultivation that make the raw product for our food processing portion of the facility,” Chimonas said.
The SunSpuds were developed to grow organically and without the use of chemicals.
The other component of the food processing is barley grain, he said. Demeter will use the barley and SunSpuds to derive inulin and beta-glucan, which are both dietary fibers with prebiotic or cholesterol-reducing properties that go into formulated food, such as energy bars.
“We’re processing these two raw materials to make our food ingredients, and that’s basically our No. 1 focus and our No. 1 profitable materials to process,” Chimonas said.
The plant will also extract protein from those materials for other food products. But in addition to the valuable components of the crops, there are sugars and starch, which are the nonvaluable parts. That’s where the ethanol plant comes in.
“To get our other products extracted efficiently, we choose to ferment the starch and sugar and make alcohol,” Chimonas said.
Alcohol, or ethanol, can be used for drinking beverages, pharmaceutical and other industrial uses, he said. It can also be blended with gasoline to go to the transportation market, which Demeter has chosen to do.
At the proposed facility, after fermentation, beer containing ethanol will be fed into a distillation unit and concentrated. A two-tank dehydrator will produce the ethanol product. It will then be denatured with unleaded gasoline and stored in underground storage tanks, before semi-tanker-trucks haul it away.
That one small component of a large facility is holding up the whole process, he said. It requires a conditional use permit, public hearings and the opportunity for people to voice their opinions on the project.
The facility would cost $50 million to $60 million to build and would create about 50 jobs with an annual payroll of $2.5 million, according to Tina Wilson, executive director of the Western Alliance for Economic Development. It would also bring in over $350,000 a year in property taxes.
But the holdup in the approval process has been costly, and Chimonas said if the project is not approved, it’s likely the company will no longer be in Canyon County.
His company first acquired the land in August and filed for the conditional use permit in September.
If the commissioners do approve the project, Chimonas said Demeter will do what it can to work with the neighbors.
“We still intend to be good neighbors, and I don’t particularly care to live in animosity for the rest of the project’s life,” he said.
‘WE HAVE A RIGHT TO BE CONCERNED’
It was easy to spot the people opposed to the project at public hearings and meetings. They wore red tags on their clothes with the word “NO” written in big black letters.
One of those people was Ann Hale. She and her husband live 1.4 miles directly south of the proposed site. When Hale heard about the ethanol plant, she began researching the plan and the people involved, and her concerns grew.
Hale produced stacks of articles about SunSpuds and ethanol plants. She had LinkedIn profiles of the people involved in the company and some of their past failed endeavors on similar projects.
Hale was given 20 minutes to speak to the county commissioners on behalf of the Pleasant Ridge community during the public hearing for the appeal of the conditional use permit denial.
She told the commissioners that the plan was misleading in portraying the project as a food processing facility with an ethanol component. It was also misleading, she said, in the amount of traffic it would bring.
“Although SunSpuds are high in inulin, they were developed to replace corn as a biomass for ethanol production,” she stated in her speech to the commissioners. “This is an ethanol plant, not a food processing plant.”
There’s a stigma attached to ethanol plants, and people don’t want to live next to them, she said. That negative perception could have a bad impact on their property values.
“We have a right to be concerned,” she said.
Jake and Marnie Fillmore purchased their home on Lower Pleasant Ridge Road in October and learned soon after that an ethanol plant could be built in their area.
“We have not even moved in yet and have a sinking feeling about its value and the way that this plant will adversely impact us and those around us,” they wrote in a letter to the planning and zoning commission in December.
Those concerns were shared by other neighbors who testified and provided letters of opposition to the project. They were also concerned with traffic, odor, noise and safety.
There are 59 approved uses for the M-1 zoning of the site chosen for the proposed food processing and ethanol plant. Those uses don’t require conditional use permits or public comment.
In a rebuttal to the concerns brought by residents near the site of the proposed facility, lawyers for Demeter state that many of those 59 uses have a greater impact than ethanol-related activities.
Some of the other approved uses for M-1 zoning, according to county ordinance, include breweries, agricultural research facilities, a distillery, fertilizer processing, junkyards and vehicle wrecking yards, kennels, mineral extraction and a transit or trucking terminal.
The food processing aspect, which is already allowed in the area, would be responsible for most of the traffic surrounding the facility and is not relevant to the conditional use permit portion, according to the rebuttal. If the ethanol portion weren’t part of the facility, it would actually increase traffic, because by-products would need to be hauled away, Chimonas said.
Demeter estimates that 17 trucks would come and go from the facility each day for all components, including ethanol, which would account for about a third of the traffic. There would also be traffic from the 50 or so employees driving to and from work. The 51 average daily trips expected from the facility is below the 500 average daily trips that would require a traffic impact study from Canyon Highway District, according to Demeter.
The noise level of the plant is expected to be “relatively quiet” at the property line, according to Demeter, but there would be some noise typical of industrial operations. The most common sounds likely would be from semi-trucks during the daylight hours.
If approved, there would be four 63-foot-tall fermenter tanks and a 63-foot tall beer storage tank. Two distillation columns would be about 100 feet high.
The odor from the operation would be minimal because of the technology the facility will use, according to Demeter. The beer fermenters would emit carbon dioxide with minor contents of alcohols and “other aromatics.” Demeter will apply for an air permit through DEQ, which regulates its emissions, and that permit would be issued prior to when construction begins.
After the conditional use permit was denied by the Planning and Zoning Commission, there was a list of actions given to Demeter to obtain approval. Demeter would need to manage the noise at the facility, submit an odor management plan that meets the requirements of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and demonstrate that the traffic generated by the facility would not cause interference with future traffic patterns or negatively affect properties in the immediate vicinity.
ETHANOL PLANTS HAVE ROCKY HISTORY LOCALLY
An ethanol plant proposed by Treasure Valley Renewable Resources for Payette County was denied by that county’s commissioners in 2003. The proposed plant would have been in Fruitland and was expected to produce 20 million gallons per year, according to a Press-Tribune report.
After the ethanol plant was denied — in part because it was planned for prime agricultural land — Malheur County, in eastern Oregon on the Idaho border, offered the company a proposal to build the plant in that county. The developers also considered sites in Canyon County, after a then-county commissioner contacted the developers, and in Gem County.
One site proposed in Canyon County was near the railroad tracks on the south side of Highway 19 between Caldwell and Greenleaf, but it didn’t happen.
The J.R. Simplot Company operated an ethanol plant in Caldwell on Highway 19 that was built in 1985 and shut down in 2004. The plant converted potato waste to fuel-grade ethanol. Simplot officials told the Press-Tribune in 2004 that there wasn’t enough potato feedstock available to operate the plant profitably, and the plant was turning out less than half of its capacity of 2.4 million gallons per year.
In 2006, Simplot signed a lease agreement with the London-based ED&F Man Holdings Limited to again produce ethanol at the Caldwell facility, but the facility later closed.
Idaho now has just one operating ethanol plant, in Burley, that has the capacity to produce more than 60 million gallons of ethanol fuel, according to the Idaho Office of Energy Resources.
If it’s approved, the Demeter facility in Canyon County would be the second operational ethanol plant in the state, but it has a much lower capacity than the Burley plant. The Demeter plant would make 7 million to 10 million gallons of ethanol per year of all grades, according to the company.