Left Justified: Does ethanol smell?

I don’t know if the ethanol plant in Lena stinks. Some people say it does, and others don’t. I haven’t driven out that way in quite a while, so I have no idea. But I do know what it’s like when neighbors raise a stink. I’m trying to put a drug counseling service in a building on Seventh Street and finding out that developer neighbors (none of whom lives here) don’t want it. They’ve used their clout with city officials to keep us do-gooders at bay.

The ethanol plant would-be neighbors live on the southwest side of town. They moved out of the city for the fresh air and countryside. Fat chance if an ethanol plant is built right next door. I’m no expert, but I guess there’s “emissions” from the smokestacks. There’s also noise and lots of traffic from all the people going to work. The ethanol neighbors are well organized, self-educated and have some political clout. That’s a dangerous combination for erstwhile developers.

Those neighbors have taken their concerns to the Winnebago County Board, which will give a fair and impartial decision. Pause….and wait for laughter. Seriously, the Winnebago County Board wants those jobs and that ethanol plant tax base here instead of in Stephenson County, where the last smelly proposal of an industry went. Very happily, I might add.

So what do most good neighborhood groups do? Host a meeting! And there is a public forum this Monday, Feb. 27, starting at 7:30 p.m. at Severson Dells, 8786 Montague Rd. The local BlackHawk Sierra Club has been asked to host it, so it will be one-sided and biased for the environment.

Guest “outside expert” speaker will be Verena Owen, chairman of the Illinois Sierra Club Chapter’s Clean Air Task Force. Owen will explain what it takes to permit an ethanol plant to exist in your back yard. She is an expert on state regulations concerning industrial plants that emit particles into the air. Verena has been working on clean air issues for the Sierra Club across the state. She started with gas- and coal-fired peaker power plants, and has testified before the Environmental Protection Agency concerning many different types of industrial plant permitting.

Owen will be joined in the discussion by neighbors who have concerns about the plant. And there are plenty, I guess. Especially “what will my private little plot of paradise be worth when this massive industrial site moves next door?”

You are more than welcome to come and hear the fireworks, or maybe join in yourself.

Back here on Seventh Street, the City Zoning Appeal Board has ruled that our drug counseling service is a “research facility” and should be housed in an industrial park. That’s because the counselors collect data (i.e., race, sex, age, etc.) and send it to a research facility at Beth Israel Hospital in New York. Watch out, you information collectors, you could be next!

The Total Health Awareness Team (THAT, catchy name, huh?), of course, is appealing the City Council’s zoning board’s decision. It will probably take about a year, and meanwhile, many people are going without drug counseling. Some will die. But the developers will get their condominiums, along with city funds.

How does that smell?

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the Feb. 22-28, 2006, issue

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