(La Porte, IN) - Preliminary approval has been granted for Kingsbury Elevator to operate a nitrogen fertilizer plant which has drawn a great deal of public concern.
The LaPorte County Plan Commission on May 25 approved a request to rezone the site from business to heavy industry.
The LaPorte County Commissioners must uphold the decision for the zoning change to become official.
A special exception to the zoning change would have to be obtained from the LaPorte County Board of Zoning Appeals for the fertilizer plant to begin operating.
Approval by the Plan Commission was granted despite the proposed facility with two 45,000 gallon tanks already receiving and storing fertilizer in the form of anhydrous ammonia.
Plan Commission member Rita Beaty reported a storage tank at the proposed facility was being filled from a semi-truck on May 21 and again three days later.
Anthony Novak, the attorney for Kingsbury Elevator, said the anhydrous ammonia was ordered in December because final approval for the plant was expected to be received in March.
He said the rail shipment was heading this way, though, after snags delaying the timeline for approval developed and the fertilizer after delivery was stored in the tanks.
Novak said he wasn’t informed about the fertilizer until just before the plan commission meeting and informed his clients not to order any more of the chemical to avoid the risk of not receiving full approval.
"I can’t get around the fact that it was done. I have told them to stop,” he said.
Beaty still wasn’t too happy, though, saying it wasn’t the first time for the plan commission to be leap frogged.
“I guess I just have an issue with going ahead and asking for forgiveness later. As many years as I’ve been here, that’s become an issue now and then,” she said.
Ed Lindborg, the owner of Kingsbury Elevator, said fertilizer had to be there to ensure safety requirements in areas like handling and equipment were met effectively.
“Some of the activity going on over there is for training and testing. It’s kind of hard to do if there’s no product there,” he said.
Novak said the change in zoning conforms with the surrounding industrial use at the over 600 acre park.
He also said the proposal meets the distance requirements outlined for ammonia used in agriculture.
Novak said the tanks are more than 1,000 feet from the former Cheers banquet hall and the nearest church and over 400 feet from the closest residence.
Lindborg plans to receive nitrogen fertilizer on Canadian National rail cars from production facilities in Mississippi, Iowa and Canada and store it until the chemical is ready for delivery on semi-trucks to retailers in northern Indiana and southern Michigan.
Local farmers could also go directly to the elevator to purchase fertilizer.
Anydrous ammonia, a liquid when stored under pressure, reverts back to a gas and forms a vapor cloud when released into the air.
Bill Field, a farm safety expert at Purdue University, said the gas is not typically explosive during a leak because of how fast it quickly dissipates in the air.
The greatest danger from a leak is exposure to the vapors which can produce severe and deadly burns to the skin, eyes and lungs, he said.
Field said powerful explosions are more likely from impact by a motor vehicle or during a derailment.
The liquid from impact expands and if the tanks are overfilled the pressure builds inside the containers until they explode, he said.
Because of the risks, LaPorte County Building Commissioner Michael Polan suggested a commitment in writing from Kingsbury Elevator that local firefighters will be regularly trained in responding to any emergencies.
He said that would help avoid the possibility of firefighters not knowing how to respond because of turnover.
“This particular petition has generated a lot of interest from the public and my office has been receiving the calls and e-mails. There appears to be no explosive risk which was a concern in some of the calls but there is an airborne danger if there were any leaks,” Polan said.
Novak said all of the necessary approvals from the state have been obtained and hopes to receive the permissions needed locally next month.