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County officials to meet with Mead about AltEn

County officials to meet with Mead about AltEn

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MEAD — The Saunders County Board of Supervisors has scheduled a special meeting on March 1 with the Village of Mead Board of Trustees and other officials to discuss the AltEn situation. 

The meeting will be at 7 p.m. at the Mead High School gymnasium. Saunders County Attorney Joe Dobesh said that they have invited officials from the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy, District 23 Sen. Bruce Bostelman and experts on the situation. 

AltEn is an ethanol plant located in Mead. It is one of two ethanol plants in the United States that utilizes treated seed corn to produce ethanol. This treated seed corn and the byproducts created by the ethanol process are being stored on AltEn’s property in large piles near lagoons. Because the corn is treated, it contains many potentially harmful insecticides and fungicides that could affect the groundwater.

The chemicals in these large, green piles have resulted in a stench and many residents of the village contend they have suffered health problems because of the chemicals.

There is also very little legislation on treated seed corn since there are so few ethanol producers that use this method. Since an article from The Guardian put the environmental issue on the map, Bostelman introduced legislation prohibiting the use of treated seed corn. The bill is currently in committee. 

On Jan. 19, the county board announced that they would be scheduling a meeting with Mead officials to publicly discuss the situation. Since then, a few things have happened.

An emergency order to cease operations was filed by the NDEE on Feb. 4. The plant closed on Feb. 8. Shortly after this a frozen pipe burst in the early hours of Feb. 12. The pipe burst caused cattle manure and other materials to spill out of one of two digester tanks which hold about 4 million gallons each. 

Saunders County Emergency Manager Terry Miller reported on the situation to the county board during its regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 16. Miller said some of the waste that was released was mostly manure, despite there being no official release on the waste’s contents from NDEE. 

“It’s just a stroke of bad luck for them with everything else going on,” Miller said.

In light of Miller’s report, District 2 Supervisor Doris Karloff made a motion to add an emergency item to the agenda about the recent AltEn events, the March 1 meeting in Mead and what will be on the agenda that night. 

Dobesh explained to the county board that NDEE needs to release the test results they have related to AltEn. This request was something Dobesh was going to make at the March 1 meeting, but because of recent events he felt the action needed to be accelerated. 

“I don’t think we can wait until March 1,” Dobesh said. 

Dobesh called for the board to request that NDEE immediately releases all test results regarding the AltEn facility for the general public. The action also asks that NDEE advises the community about groundwater and soil contaminations at AltEn and that NDEE takes the opportunity to give updated information to the public at the March 1 meeting. 

“The community is justifiably concerned,” Dobesh said. 

The motion was approved after a unanimous vote from the county board. 

“We need to relieve some of the fear in the area as to what’s going on,” Karloff said. “It’s imperative that we move on this now rather than waiting until March 1 to talk about it.”

Because of the special meeting on March 1, the regularly scheduled March 2 county board meeting was cancelled. During the Feb. 16 meeting, the county board rescheduled two public hearings that were originally scheduled for March 2 to March 9.

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