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Southern Minnesota Sugar reports improved compliance, reduction in regulatory issues

OLIVIA -- The Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative is reporting improved compliance with water quality requirements as it starts the process of applying for a new multi-year water discharge permit.

Louis Knieper, director of environmental compliance for the cooperative, told the Renville County Board of Commissioners that the company continued to reduce the number of "exceedences'' that must be reported to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in 2009. The company is required to provide an annual update as part of a requirement allowing it to discharge its treated effluent into Renville County Ditch 45, or Sacred Heart Creek.

The company has been documenting improved regulatory compliance since 2004. Knieper said his goal remains to reach 100 percent compliance, or no reportable events in a year.

The company is currently preparing an approximately 1,700-page application for a new discharge permit. It should arrive at the MPCA offices, along with 13 supporting documents and studies, by month's end, he told the commissioners.

Molasses that spilled as a train car was filled, and sulfur dioxide gas that was vented when a valve froze that would have diverted it to a neutralizing vessel, were the two most significant of the events that were reported in the past year.

The relatively trouble-free year came as the plant processed 2.6 million tons of sugar beets. The plant's wastewater treatment plant treated 232.9 million gallons of water.

The company is applying for a new discharge permit that would continue the same environmental requirements as it is now obligated to meet. The application will request to continue the discharge of treated effluent into County Ditch 45.

Renville County is asking the MPCA to consider changing the company's permit to discharge the treated water into County Ditch 37, or Beaver Falls Creek.

The creek has a larger carrying capacity, and a return to its use would reduce the risks for downstream flooding. It would also reduce the amount of water the plant must hold on-site in its ponds.