LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- The lawsuit filed by seed companies seeking cost recovery in the cleanup of a now-defunct ethanol plant in Mead, Nebraska, will run through at least 2025 to allow plant owner AltEn LLC to preserve funds.
The plant has been shut down since February 2021 following multiple environmental violations reported by the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy.
Environmental cleanup at the plant entered a new phase this past summer when a company hired by a coalition of seed companies conducted a pilot project to study the feasibility of moving 115,000 tons of wet cake, a byproduct that contains high levels of pesticide residue, to a landfill. The wet cake, also known as "mash," is located on 16 acres at the northwest corner of the ethanol plant property 40 miles north of Lincoln.
AltEn once accepted unsold treated corn seed from major companies but began stockpiling the contaminated wet cake on-site after it was considered unfit for livestock feed or as a soil conditioner. The wet cake and ponds filled with pesticide-contaminated water on the site combined to create an environmental disaster for the neighboring residents.
This week the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska laid out a schedule in an ongoing lawsuit filed by Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., Syngenta Seeds LLC and Bayer U.S. LLC, seeking to recover at least some of the estimated $28 million spent so far in the cleanup.
The court deadlines will take the case through 2024, with depositions to be completed by Oct. 15, 2025, meaning any trial likely would push on into 2025 or 2026 unless the case ends in some other fashion.
The seed companies outlined where the cleanup stands in a status report filed with the court this week. AgReliant, Bayer, Becks, Corteva Agriscience, Syngenta and Winfield United formed a response group to voluntarily clean up the plant site.
The seed companies said they have "made significant progress at the site," including completing water treatment upgrades at the plant and the removal of seed "abandoned by the defendants" at the site.
Stormwater management improvements and winterization at the property have been installed and the companies have been conducting a wet cake solidification and disposal pilot project at the plant. An air monitoring program was also launched.
In May 2023, the seed companies launched the first phase of the pilot project focused on the removal, transportation and disposal of debris, unused materials and biochar discarded at the site by AltEn. That phase was completed in June 2023.
"To date, approximately 1,500 tons of non-wet cake materials (debris, soil, biochar, starch, containers and other non-hazardous solids) were removed from the site to Waste Management's Pheasant Point Landfill," according to the status report from the seed companies.
The second phase of the project, which began in August 2023, involves solidifying wet cake and transporting it off-site to a landfill.
"As of Nov. 10, 2023, approximately 5,120 tons of wet cake has been solidified and transported to the Pheasant Point Landfill," according to the status report. "Assuming no equipment, supply or weather delays, up to 10,605 tons of processed wet cake will be removed from the site."
According to the current phase-two schedule reported to the court, solidification and off-site transport of distillers grains was to be completed on Friday.
In addition to the pilot project, the seed companies have taken other steps to remediate the site, the status report said.
"For example, an outside contractor, Covanta, was retained to transport seed corn from the site to Covanta's waste-to-energy facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma," the seed companies said in the report.
"These efforts are ongoing and anticipated to be completed by the end of 2023. An estimated 6,675 tons of seed will be transported from the site to Covanta's facility. As of Nov. 10, 2023, Covanta has moved approximately 3,200 tons of seed corn from the site. Seed transport and disposal continue with up to five trucks transporting seed per day."
In addition, an improved water treatment system was built on-site and became operational in August 2023.
"Water treatment and land application are ongoing and will occur through the winter of 2023," according to the status report.
"As of November 2023, approximately 61.6 million gallons of water has been treated and approximately 19.2 million gallons has been land applied to 16 local fields."
The seed companies said they have also been conducting groundwater monitoring and August 2023 results show "decreased concentrations of pesticides."
Read more on DTN:
"Wet Cake Is Next Phase in AltEn Cleanup," https://www.dtnpf.com/…
Todd Neeley can be reached at email@example.com
Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @DTNeeley
(c) Copyright 2023 DTN, LLC. All rights reserved.