Winnebago ethanol plant again taking steps to correct environmental violations

Contact: Cathy Rofshus, 507-206-2608

Rochester, Minn. — The Corn Plus ethanol plant in Winnebago in southern Minnesota has again agreed to take steps to correct several environmental violations and pay a $39,450 penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). Agency inspections and records reviews found several violations of the plant’s stormwater permit that sets conditions to ensure runoff from the plant does not pollute lakes, streams and groundwater.

Corn Plus has a submitted a plan to the MPCA to sample the plant’s stormwater ponds for pollutants and monitor their water levels as set by its permit. Corn Plus failed to take water quality samples, as required by its permit, from two stormwater ponds 61 times from March 2012 to June 2014.

It has also submitted a plan on changes it will make to ensure compliance with conditions on spraying its stormwater on land to allow pollutants to filter out as it drains through the soil. The ethanol plant applied stormwater from holding ponds to land during cold weather when runoff is more likely to occur, a violation of its permit.

Corn Plus has submitted a report on repairing leaks and aerosol drift from its cooling towers, after inspections found water and foam leaking from the towers in violation of its permit.

The plant has submitted a plan and documentation on storing, reporting and disposing of materials that could be industrial waste. Corn Plus failed to report several releases of materials that could potentially contaminate its stormwater including corn, syrup and oil, though most of the spills remained within the plant building.

Corn Plus has provided documentation, including photos, that it has cleaned up a dumpster area where rain water was passing through the garbage containers, potentially carrying pollutants, and draining across the land and off company property.

It has also agreed to train staff to follow the contingency plan in its permit when stormwater ponds may overflow due to high runoff events. The plant’s stormwater pond levels were too high several times and Corn Plus failed to follow its contingency plan 44 times from March 2012 through April 2016 that called for pumping the stormwater from the ponds to fermentation tanks until weather allowed applying the stormwater to land. The plant also failed to control its production to allow stormwater to be stored in fermentation tanks until land application was available from March 2012 through April 2016.

It has also agreed to submit required records on time. Corn Plus was late several times in submitting information to the MPCA, including discharge monitoring reports, stormwater pond inspection documents, an annual industrial stormwater report, documents on its wastewater and stormwater outlets, verification of repairs, and an annual report on spraying its stormwater to land.

The penalty and conditions are part of a stipulation agreement between Corn Plus and the MPCA. This type of agreement is one of the tools the agency uses to achieve compliance with environmental laws. When calculating penalties, the MPCA takes into account how seriously the violation affected the environment, whether it was a first-time or repeat violation and how promptly the violation was reported to appropriate authorities. The agency also attempts to recover the calculated economic benefit gained by failure to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner.

This recent agreement follows actions by Corn Plus to correct past air and water quality violations. In 2014, Corn Plus paid a $25,141 penalty and took action to correct air quality and noise violations. In 2011, the company took several steps to correct air permit violations, including falsifying air monitoring data and paid a $310,000 state penalty. In 2010, the company paid a $200,000 state penalty for water quality violations and agreed to environmental projects at the plant costing at least $691,000. In 2009, Corn Plus paid a $150,000 penalty as part of a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for criminal charges related to water quality violations.