GIBSON CITY — A Gibson City ethanol plant has agreed to pay a $25,000 fine to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to settle a complaint alleging the facility violated state pollution control rules in 2017.
Upon the IEPA’s request, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul filed the complaint with the Illinois Pollution Control Board on Feb. 28 against One Earth Energy, located at 202 N. Jordan Drive on Gibson City’s west side.
The complaint was in response to the IEPA’s discovery of contaminated storm water being released by the ethanol plant into Drummer Creek during an inspection on May 30, 2017.
The discharged storm water contained “settleable solids and sludge from the facility,” resulting in “visibly turbid and odorous water” in Drummer Creek, in violation of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act, according to the complaint.
The IEPA’s complaint said there was a “significant quantity of dark-colored discharge” flowing into the creek, which was “exhibiting a septic-like odor.”
The contamination was believed to be caused by a broken pipe connected to a standpipe in one of One Earth Energy’s five storm water retention ponds. That specific retention pond, located east of the facility, contains an “L-shaped” standpipe that is designed to prevent “poor-quality bottom storm water” containing high sediment concentrations from flowing directly into the drain system and creek.
“At the time of the May 30, 2017, inspection, dark-colored and odorous storm water containing bottom sediment and sludge from (the pond) was bypassing the standpipe structure and draining directly into the broken drain line through the broken pipe hole,” the complaint stated.
One Earth Energy officials told IEPA inspectors that the retention pond’s drain valve had been open for the previous two days due to high storm water levels.
After being notified of the contamination by the IEPA, the plant agreed to immediately close the drain valve to stop the flow of storm water into the creek. The plant also promptly replaced the damaged pipe and covered it with an earth berm to insulate it from changing temperature conditions and help prevent “fatigue on the system.”
Also, excess vegetation surrounding the pond was removed to facilitate future inspection and maintenance of the pond.
The corrective actions taken by One Earth Energy were noted by the attorney general’s office in a May 23 motion which asked the Illinois Pollution Control Board to accept the IEPA’s proposed settlement with the plant and waive a required public hearing.
In addition to paying a $25,000 civil penalty, One Earth Energy has agreed to “implement and annually train employees on a formal, written procedure to respond to an unwanted release from the storm water ponds.” Also, the plant has agreed to keep closed the drain valve that controls discharges into the creek, unless elevated water levels in the ponds require discharge. The plant will also conduct monthly inspections of the retention ponds.
Prior to approving the settlement, the Illinois Pollution Control Board is accepting written comments from the public for the next 30 days. Comments may include demands that a public hearing be held.
Steve Kelly, general manager of One Earth Energy, declined to comment on the complaint or settlement on Wednesday.