IOWA COUPLE SUES DUPONT DANISCO OVER STOVER PILE FIRES
May 27, 2014
Des Moines Register reports:
Burdell and Barbara Clark have been building their retirement dream - a home, prairies, ponds and stream - on 42 acres near Nevada, Ia., for two decades.
But the couple said a March blaze in a field across the road - filled with thousands of bales of corn stover for a new cellulosic ethanol plant - threatened it all and will again.
They're suing DuPont Danisco in Story County District Court, claiming the company has acted recklessly and carelessly in storing the "highly combustible corn stover" across from their home. The couple are trying to force the company to move the bales and pay for the damage to their home and property.
Fire risk presents a potential stumbling block as the ethanol industry develops its first next-generation plants after years of planning. DuPont Danisco, however, says it it has worked with Iowa State University to build a "safe and sustainable stover management system."
DuPont Danisco has had five fires at stover storage areas over three years, said Keith Morgan, coordinator with the Story County Emergency Management. No one was injured and there was no damage, except that claimed by the Clarks.
The Clarks call the stover storage "a clear and present danger."
"Firefighters can't put these fires out. They've got to just let them burn," said Burdell Clark, who watched the fire burn for 24 hours before firefighters were able to leave. It continued to smolder for about a week more. "It was a forest wildfire that never moved.
"They will catch on fire again. ... We don't want it near our house or anybody else's."
DuPont Danisco is building a $225 million plant that will use stover - corn leaves, stalks and other residue - to make cellulosic ethanol. The company has said it will need 700,000 bales of stover to feed its ethanol plant annually and will collect it from farmers within 50 miles around it.
The new ethanol process - also being developed by Poet-DSM in Emmetsburg - is expected to be significantly more environmentally friendly than traditional gasoline. The facility, producing 30 million gallons of ethanol, is expected to open this year.
"We're conducting extensive investigations to determine if additional safeguards are required at our stover storage locations to further ensure the safety of our employees, emergency responders and the community," DuPont Danisco said in a statement.
The Clarks - he's a retired engineer from Sauer Danfoss, she's a patent attorney in Ames - say DuPont Danisco have made promises to them before and failed to keep them.
The couple said they began expressing concerns in 2012 that the corn stover storage site was unsightly and would become a fire hazard. DuPont's representatives "repeatedly sought to assure the Clarks that their concerns over a fire at DuPont's Corn Stover Storage Facility were misplaced," according to court documents.
A company representative promised not to add stover bales to the site, the lawsuit says. But Burdell Clark said the size of the stover pile grew into what's been described as 55,000 bales - stacked about three stories high. About 5,200 bales were burned in the March 31 blaze.
Burdell Clark said the fire left their dream retirement home frozen in blackened ash. Firefighters had to surrounded the home in a "water curtain" to protect it from the blaze that threatened to jump across the road.
Clark said he walked through drifts of ash to inspect the damage. Twenty firefighters from seven communities responded to the blaze.
A DuPont official acknowledged to reporters in October that uncontrolled fires are a risk for stover plants. A cellulosic ethanol plant in Kansas had a fire in May 2013, and bales burned for a week, according to reports.
Officials believe two blazes in Story County were started by lightning - including the March fire - the causes of two were undetermined, and one was due to an inappropriately attended open burn, Morgan said.
"We're unable to put them out. The speed that they move through the locations is quick, and the intensity of the heat makes it difficult" to fight, he said.
The company also has made it clear it doesn't want firefighters taking unnecessary risks to protect the stover bales, he said.
Few regulations exist to dictate where the storage sites are located or how they're built, Morgan said, but DuPont has sought fire officials' input. The company has tried to keep the piles segregated so that fires are unable to spread.
Burdell Clark is convinced the large stover pile across from his retirement dream will burn again. "I worry the next time, it will take out everything," he said.