The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 23, 2013

Bid to block Le Sueur biofuel plant denied

Construction of the controversial plant started in November

By Dan Nienaber
The Mankato Free Press

---- — LE SUEUR — Residents trying to stop the construction of a biofuel energy plant in Le Sueur, have lost an appeal filed after a judge ruled their strategy to ban the plant by voting for a nuisance ordinance was illegal.

The Court of Appeals ruling against Patti Abrahamson, Frank Ebert and John Weber probably didn't matter much anyway. Construction of the Hometown BioEnergy project started in December and Avant Energy is hoping to have it operating before the end of the year.

The residents and and a group called Le Sueur Area Concerned Citizens attempted to stop construction of the plant by using a petition to the Le Sueur City Council asking for a special election on a propsed nuisance ordinance. The ordinance, if passed, would have banned "noxious, unpleasant or strong" odors and the accumulation of food processing waste, potato waste and animal manure.

Those waste items are what the plant will burn to create a gas that will be burned to produce electricity. Waste that remains after the waste is burned will be turned into liquid fertilizer and a solid material that will be pressed into pellets that can be burned.

The lawsuit was filed in Le Sueur County District Court in July 2012 after the City Council found that the group was attempting to manipulate state land use regulations with the proposed ordinance. Neither the ordinance nor the lawsuit specifically mention Avant Energy and the plant. The lawsuit was filed against the city for not allowing the special election.

Judge Michael Baxter issued an order dismissing the case in January. His ruling agreed with the City Council, saying the proposed ordinance would be in conflict with state nuisance laws and is preempted by the state's Municipal Planning Act.

The Court of Appeals upheld Baxter's ruling, saying it was clear the proposed ordinance was designed to prevent the project from being approved. The ruling cited the ordinance's referral to the accumulation of food waste and other waste material.

"Such blanket prohibitions would serve to almost completely eliminate the proposed bioenergy plant of the sources of the feedstock resources on which the plant would rely, including corn silage, potato waste, manure and food residuals," Court of Appeals Judge Francis Connolly said in the opinion.

Kelsey Dillon, vice president of biopower at Avant Energy, said the business was confident enough in the City Council's decision to move forward with construction. She also said she believes concerns about the plant will fade once it's up and running.

"With any new project, especially something people aren't familiar with, there's some concern about something new," Dillon said. "Once we get started here I think people will be comfortable with it once they see it in operation."