Islands want no stink in their air

Residents fear odors from an ethanol plant proposed at the port.

By TImes staff writer
Published February 20, 2007

TAMPA - Living on Davis Islands and Harbour Island has its benefits: easy access to downtown, good restaurants, entertainment and the open bay.

But there's also the Port of Tampa to contend with. Some island residents say they're worried about plans to build an ethanol production plant about 3 miles away at the port.

Among their concerns are emissions from the plant, the possibility of noxious odors and how much water it would need to operate - as much as 500,000 gallons a day, said Harbour Island resident Joyce Schauer.

She criticized the Tampa Port Authority for granting the plant's developer an option to lease 22 acres without performing a study on how the plant would affect port tenants and the surrounding community.

Instead, she said, the agency had Port Sutton EnviroFuels fill out a brief questionnaire on the project.

The Harbour Island Community Services Association plans to send representatives to a meeting today, during which the authority board will consider extending EnviroFuel's lease option six more months.

"Here it was about to appear on the horizon, and nobody knew anything about it," said association president Dave Schlingman. "Until further information comes, showing us that this thing will not affect Harbour Island - we would be opposed to the project."

Ethanol plants in the Midwest have been known to give off noxious smells from the process of fermenting corn into alcohol and from drying corn waste for livestock feed.

While evaluating the project in August 2005, the Port Authority's environmental affairs director wrote that odors could be a problem for the two neighborhoods.

"The prevailing wind from the (southeast) would blow toward (Harbour) Island and Davis Islands," David Parsche wrote in an e-mail to other staffers. "I'm convinced there would be some odor - a combination of a brewery and any feedstock drying operation."

The plant is at Port Sutton off U.S. 41. The area "is home to numerous industrial activities which can from time to time emit various odors," the Port Authority said in a prepared statement Monday. The agency said it had "limited knowledge" of what kind of odors an ethanol plant produces or how they might travel.

Officials with Port Sutton EnviroFuels said the plant will incorporate modern technology to keep odors to a minimum.

Some smells could drift from the site, but they wouldn't travel as far the island neighborhoods, said president Bradley Krohn.

The company plans to produce 44-million gallons of ethanol a year that would be mixed with gasoline at the port. The project would bring 40 jobs paying an average of $50,000 a year and help the United States and Florida rely less on foreign oil.

The project faces obstacles besides possible smells. A neighboring environmental testing business, PEL Laboratories, has sued in Hillsborough Circuit Court to block construction.

The plant has an air permit from the state that allows the release of as much as 50-million tons of "volatile organic compounds" such as benzene, the lawsuit says. PEL contends that would make it impossible for the company to test soil and water samples for trace elements of those substances.

Bill Wagner, a Harbour Island resident for five years, knows what it's like to live with nasty smells. He lived on Davis Islands 20 years ago, when the stench of cattle wafted from the port to his home.

Wagner doesn't know if domestic ethanol production is a solution to the nation's energy problems or is too fraught with problems.

"If it's really an advantage in terms of helping us with our problems, then maybe I can handle some smell," he said. "If it's like the cows, it would have to be a hell of a lot of benefit for me to go along with it."