On Wednesday, May 16, I joined a group from Scott and Cape Girardeau Counties to tour an existing ethanol plant near Malta Bend, Missouri. The group, composed of elected officials, various board members, and residents of the area were the guests of a firm considering northern Scott County as a site to construct a 50 million gallon per year ethanol plant. As county developer for Scott County, the prospect of 35 permanent quality jobs, 100-
plus construction jobs, the possibility of attracting related industry, and an estimated increase in the county tax base of over 5 percent from this single project is more than exciting. Add these benefits to a reduction in national dependence on foreign oil and the reduction of fossil fuel consumption, it is an even more attractive prospect. Based on my limited research of the risks and benefits of ethanol (both economical and environmental), I left for the tour with a positive attitude toward the proposed plant but a limited understanding of the ethanol production process. My preconceived perception of the plant was an industrial goliath rising from the corn fields. I envisioned a petroleum-like plant operated by a mix of chemists and engineers and an operations staff working amongst grease-covered equipment. This couldn't have been further from the truth.
The Malta Bend plant with a name plate capacity of 40 million gallons per year, just slightly smaller than the proposed Scott County plant was immaculately clean and surprisingly small. The operation was basically a grain elevator and a distillery although far more technologically advance. Much of the noise, emissions, inefficiencies and dangers have been carefully engineered out of the facility. Strategic placement and barriers reduce sound levels coming from the plant and meticulous sanitation practices reduce the odors and dust associated with grain. Areas where grain spillage could occur have been paved to ease in cleanup. This was done to inhibit the growth of bacteria. Elimination of bacteria both reduces odor emission and improves the efficiency of fermentation. The plant efficiently handles grain receiving eliminating the lines of idling trucks historically found at small local elevators. Off-load times from the point the truck enters the plant to the time it returns to the highway average 6 minutes. Concerns related to stories of benzene and other toxic chemicals used in the final stages of production were dispelled as this site and the proposed plant will use a ceramic filter system to separate the final 5 percent of water from the product. I was also please to learn that the carbon dioxide which is released from corn whether it be through fermented or digested is being captured for other industrial uses such as soft drink production.
Many of the firm's management and employees are residents of Malta Bend and the surrounding region. They proudly sit side-by-side with other residents at the local cafe and coffee counter and are a welcome part of the community. A local school teacher shared the opportunities made possible for the students of the small rural school in Malta Bend that would not have been possible without the ethanol plant.
Economic incentives programs are currently being evaluated to attract facilities such as this to the county. These incentives could include tax abatement to allow for infrastructure improvements including rail, highway, and utility improvements to manufacturing and production sites. Under a typical abatement schedule, it is estimated that a plant of this size would still increase real estate tax revenue by almost Â? million dollars annually through the abatement period and nearly 1 million thereafter. This would result in excess of $300,000 to the local school district annually.
As a life-long resident of rural Scott County and father of three, I place a high value on quality of life, safety, and our environment. My endorsement of this proposed plant comes only after careful consideration. After visiting the Malta Bend plant and talking with it's employees, the residents of Saline County, members of the group considering building here, and visiting with the other participant of the tour, I am further reassured of a successful symbiotic relationship between Scott County and ethanol production. I returned from the tour with a certainty that this firm and ethanol production are right for our area. I have had the pleasure to have worked with the firm over the past few months in preparation for the venture and have been impressed with their integrity and attention to detail. I believe the plant will be a good neighbor and hope that the citizens of Scott County whole-heartedly support the project should they choose to locate here.
Joel P. Evans