GRAND FORKS North Dakota environmental regulators fined a major Grand Forks agricultural business nearly $40,000 for multiple violations late last year, state records show. Another $200,000 in fines could be imposed if the facility does not comply with state-mandated modifications.
It is not clear, however, whether a newer issue in the handling of the product by the plant could lead to additional penalties. It is the latest development at a facility which has been a problem for city and state regulators many times since it was established two years ago. Multiple city leaders claim that the plant has stopped at least some of its production to ensure compliance.
Red River Biorefinery, one of Grand Forks newest additions to its north end heavy industry neighborhood, is Red River Biorefinery. A key problem was identified in state and refinery documents. In the early spring 2021, a refinery discharge valve failed, allowing industrial waste into the stormwater system of the city that drains into English Coulee.
We found out that stormwater ponds were being contaminated by wastewater, Diana Trussell, solid-waste program manager for the Department of Environmental Quality, stated. They were therefore no longer stormwater lakes. This would have required either a permit or a surface impoundment.
The Herald obtained the documents filed with the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality this week via open records request. They also mention the accusation by the state that Red River Biorefinery provided agricultural byproducts without appropriate state approvals.
A deal was reached with the state that saw the biorefinery pay a $39 223 fine and waive another $200,000 if it complies with state regulations.
The facility is working closely with the agency to address all issues. Trussell stated that they have also hired a consultant to assist them in this process. As with all enforcement actions, the ultimate goal is to get back in compliance. It’s not an easy process.
Grand Forks’ water works director Melanie Parvey stated that it isn’t clear how much waste made the English Coulee. However, she said that it wasn’t enough to pose a danger to wildlife and residents. Parvey stated that Red River Biorefinery is prohibited from releasing into the city’s stormwater systems until it can prove that its discharges have been sufficiently clean.
Parvey explained that we have a compliance program. This is an example of what you would need to do in order to complete this. So far, we have not received any information from them that would make us feel comfortable with them being connected.
Red River Biorefinery’s senior official, Keshav Rajpal confirmed via email that the unplanned discharges were caused by a mechanical fault at the plant.
He stated that the facility took immediate measures to prevent unplanned stormwater discharges and made plans for future improvements. Rajpal stated that the refinery is working closely with the state to ensure its coproducts are properly managed.
The plant, which was inaugurated in 2020, was billed as an innovative bioethanol refinery. It turned local ag scrap into ethanol. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a rapid decline in travel and markets. One of the plant leaders explained to City Hall that the refinery had purchased peastarch for its processes and was moving away from ethanol fuel in favor of hand sanitizer grade products. Their website now lists both products as well as animal feed and renewable natural gases. A shipment of equipment to the new facility was delayed due to travel restrictions.
Grand Forks residents know a part of the story through smell. The plant’s first summer of operation saw unusually high wastewater discharges. These have gotten into city processing systems such as open-air wastewater lagoons. During the summer 2020, Grand Forks was affected by an unpleasant odor.
Officials from Grand Forks suggest that Grand Forks’ odor could be due to biorefinery waste
Red River Biorefinery incurred $1.33 Million in fees for its wastewater discharges in 2020. The City Council
It was decided to levy around $588,000
Of those in October 2020. The facility was put on an installment plan to cover the sum, plus interest, but it briefly fell behind on payments earning $56,000 in late fees by the end of August 2021.
Maureen Storstad, City Finance Director, stated that the entire bill, including penalties was paid last year. A subsequent payment plan for city services, which was levied in September, was also paid early.
In January 2021, another issue arose with the refinery. The Herald reported that city leaders had suspended load parameters for the plant wastewater following a bad batch.
Company staff are replacing the problematic biomass. The Herald reported at the time that it would take around 10 weeks to return to the city the amount of pollutants and suspended substances the plant sends.
Parvey, the official of the city waterworks, stated that facility leaders had recently informed Parvey that they had recently changed the refinery’s focus to compliance purchasing equipment that will help with wastewater treatment. This is in response to recent waste problems at the refinery.
She said that they had just spoken out and stated that they had stopped producing alcohol as of March 15. They are no longer producing alcohol, but they are operating and going through a cleaning and commissioning phase.
Recently, the Department of Environmental Quality sent a cease-and desist letter to the refinery in December asking it to stop what it called dumping of wastewater into a gravel pit in Grace Township, Grand Forks County.
The letter stated that a refinery official had told the department that it sells wastewater to third parties that dispose of it. The letter stated that neither the third party nor the refinery have the permits.
Trussell stated she could not discuss this matter right now as it remains unresolved. She stated that it is not clear what impact it may have on Red River’s $200,000 suspended fine, if any.
Rajpal’s response to the Herald did not address the cease-and DESIST letter.