Saturday, November 28, 2009

Oh Come on Now

December 2nd, 2009
Oh Come on Now!
One of the most famous lines about government is about to come true in South Dakota. It will be especially true in Union County. “Hi, I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”

The state of South Dakota’s DENR has put up three air quality monitoring stations to monitor emissions from the proposed refinery site. I don’t know why they didn’t save the state some money and just give it to Hyperion.

When we went out on Monday and took air samples, we also went to two of the three monitoring sites to see what their relationship was with the refinery. What a joke. The first site is 1 ¼ miles south of St. Paul Lutheran church, which is four miles straight south of the refinery site. Wind for The monitoring station was blocked from the south and east by a shelter belt. It is blocked from the south and southwest by the farm and outbuildings. There is a gravel road less than 100 yards west from the station. But it does have a clear shot at the refinery except for one thing. It will not be in line with the prevailing winds to sample anything. During the winter months, the wind blows from the northwest to the southeast. The monitoring station is directly south. So unless the wind is directly out of the north, the place is useless. I guess you could say that this site is downwind, but downwind from what? The monitoring station is checking for toxic chemicals, but from what the state says, it is only 6 major ones. What about gasses like benzene, ammonia, carbon disulfide and xylene? These are also prevalent with refinery output. What about VOC’s like sulfur, sulfur dioxide, lead and mercury? Oh, I forgot those are particulate matter which they are not monitoring for. Silly me!

We went to the second station which is exactly like the first one except that it is straight north 2 miles and 2 miles west of the refinery. It was right across the street from the Spink Café. What are they going to monitor here, bacon grease, hamburgers and French fries? That’s what we could smell. It had a clear view of the southeast, but the wind was blocked from the north and northwest by houses, barns and garages.

Now really, how dumb do they think we are? But wait a minute I’m not finished yet.
The third station, which we didn’t visit, is 9 miles north-northwest from the refinery site and it monitors ambient air for ozone except there is a bill hill to the north and hills to the southeast. Guess what folks, refineries don’t emit ozone. It emits gasses that cause ozone when mixed with different chemicals, but not ozone. Did they put a monitoring station 9 miles south southeast of the refinery site? Nope, that would be in Elk Point, and you know they don’t care what comes down the pike as long as it is green and spends at Wally World. And you know the refinery doesn’t want to monitor what comes up from Elk Point. (put your own answer in here)

Now that I’ve bashed everyone about this, let’s look at the real purpose of monitoring stations, and where the sites should be located. This information by the way comes from an authority on this subject, Mr. Denny Larson from San Francisco, California. He has been in this business a long time and believe me; he knows what he is talking about and Hyperion knows it as well.

When you set up monitoring stations, you need to have at least 1000 meters (1500 meters in a mile) cleared around the monitoring site so that there is only a minimal chance you will get bad readings. The monitoring stations should be reciprocal of each other so that you can compare the readings before the wind hits the refinery as well as after it leaves so you can tell whether or not the emissions come from the refinery or outside of the boundary. One needs to be able to tell what the source of the emission is and the only way you can do that is to document the occurrence. As an example, the other day the state said that an anomaly at the union county park was caused by dust from a combine. Now how are they going to be able to tell that when the reporting station is in Pierre???

When you have a monitoring station 9 miles from the refinery, who knows what the source of the emission could be? They should be reporting every 10 minutes, so that if there is a flare occurrence, they will immediately know and be able to take action. Is the state afraid to put a monitoring station on the fenceline because they are scared of what they might be reading? I would bet on it.

Another thing that would be available is what is called “grab samples” which allow the public to take immediate samples when there are large accidental releases. (Accidents??) This is like what we did on Sunday when we were learning how to use the bucket. If one suddenly smells a strange odor they can get the bucket, take a sample and send it to the lab.
These monitoring stations should be manned and operated by a disinterested third party to prevent a bias determination when a sample is taken. You don’t think Hyperion would report immediately when there is an accident do you? Or would they even report the correct makeup of the sample. I would think they might tend to under report their findings.

In short folks, letting the fox guard the chicken house is not a good idea, you tend to lose a lot of chickens that way.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Holey Bucket Brigade

November 25th, 2009
‘Holey Bucket Brigade’
After three sessions with Denny Larson from San Francisco, many of us will be covering the countryside in Union County collecting air samples to establish a baseline for use in the event Hyperion should decide to do something stupid like building a refinery in Union County. We were taught how to put together the ‘bucket’ to collect air samples that will measure the amount of toxic chemicals that is in the air. This baseline will be used to ensure that if there is a violation by the refinery, it will be properly recorded and forwarded to the appropriate agencies to take action to have it stopped.
It is amazing to see the steps that are taken to ensure that the samples collected don’t get contaminated by any outside agency to spoil the sample or have the sample declared invalid because it may have been handled improperly along the way.
The samples will be sent by FedEx next day air to a processing company in California to test the sample and post the results. It will cost several hundred dollars to collect each sample, so it is not going to be an inexpensive process, but will be extensively complicated process to ensure our credibility is never jeopardized or compromised. Every effort will be made to follow these procedures, because we never want to put ourselves into a position for Hyperion to say this is not valid. The EPA hasn’t approved the ‘bucket’ collection process, but do say that this is a legitimate collection process.
There is a method to our madness. It is our intent to protect the citizens in this area from harmful pollution from the refinery. Plain and Simple! That last comment will draw considerable responses from pro Hyperion folks, but it is the truth. We don’t want to see anyone suffer from having to breathe contaminated air, and if we can alert the proper authorities that there is a dangerous situation here and it helps save just one life, we will have accomplished what we set out to do. Bear in mind, that the people doing this are volunteering their time and money to ensure that this community remains safe and sound. Granted we would rather not have to do this at all, but if it is going to be done, we want to be the ones who start this. We will be contacting all the surrounding communities hoping that this will spread throughout the country to make sure that if there is a discrepancy it will be noted. This also puts Hyperion on alert that we are continually watching for hazards that are dangerous to everyone in the area.
Just to give you an idea of the difference in the collection procedures used by the ‘bucket brigade’ versus the collection system by the state DENR, try to imagine shooting a bb through a straw from just 10 feet away. That is what is happening with the DENR monitoring system. They have permanent locations supposedly upwind and downwind from the refinery to collect air samples 24/7 but what if the wind is blowing the plume away from all the stations? That is where we come in. we randomly select areas to monitor that may or may not be in a close proximity to the refinery to ensure that there will always be a circle around the refinery. We are monitoring for more gasses than the DENR and these gasses are more dangerous than those considered in the permit by Hyperion. Just one of these gasses is benzene.
Here is how the ‘bucket’ works. The bucket is a little bit larger than a 5 gallon pail. 2 holes are drilled in the lid, directly opposite from each other. The holes are fitted with stainless steel fittings that have hoses fitted to them. One end is a pump which sucks the air out of the pail and creates a vacuum. When you want to take a sample, all you do is open a valve and the air is sucked into the pail which has a ‘tedlar’ bag inside which traps the air. When the bag is full, merely take the sealed bag out of the pail, put it into a FedEx mailer and it is sent off to California. It is that simple. From the time the bag is marked for sampling, it is never left unattended, even for a minute, to ensure it cannot be tampered with. There is a log sheet that you sign when you take the sample. The next person who receives the container is logged on the sheet. When it gets to FedEx, it is logged. When it gets to the destination, it is logged. This method of sampling has been successful in 19 countries and 22 states. This is the first one in South Dakota.
If and when things start happening with Hyperion, the ‘bucket brigade’ will be waiting for them. It is always better to be pro active than reactive. Happy Thanksgiving, and Happy Bucketing!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Who Woulda Thunk It?

November 11th, 2009
Who Woulda Thunk It?

On the 11th minute, of the 11th hour, in the 11th month of 1918, Germany surrendered unconditionally to the American led forces in World War I,. To all the men and women who have served, I salute you! To all the families who have had loved ones who served, I salute you! All who have served gave some, some gave all. We observe this day in honor of our armed forces, and acknowledge their willingness to sacrifice their lives to preserve our freedom.

At the Union County Commissioners meeting last Tuesday, the commissioners, on advice of their legal counsel, announced suspension of the portion of the ordinance pertaining to signs. This was a humbling experience for me. It isn’t often I win an issue with the commissioners, but this one was particularly sweet. If you read my article last week, you would understand why I am so pleased. After over a month of playing by their rules, they gave in to my request and suspended that part of the ordinance. States Attorney Jerry Miller advised the commission that it would be very difficult to defend against my claim and that the best route to go is to suspend the ordinance pending a rewrite that will stand up to legal claims.

I would prefer that the whole ordinance be rewritten, but as it says in the comprehensive plan, this is a living document and is to be reviewed on a yearly basis and major reviews are to be done every 5 years. I have learned to become a patient man when dealing with the county government, and I can wait as long as they can. There are many portions of this ordinance that are bad, but until something happens which challenges the law, things will continue under the status quo. There is an old saying that if you don’t tell me something is wrong I will presume everything is ok. I wonder where they would like me to start. After all; I did get through County Government 101.

What bothers me most about this whole thing is that I have the feeling that since I did this, the county hopes this issue will be forgotten. Wrong! I still have a personal roughing the passer foul in this brief that I filed. They said nothing about the fact that I accused Dennis of infringing my 1st amendment rights, and that still stands. It says nothing of the questions that I want answered and won’t be, so the case goes on.

It was really great to see so many people there on the 29th, showing their support. You don’t know what a boost it was for me to have you show up. Just the fact that you came to the meeting meant so much. And I’m sure to the board as well. When we showed them a united front, I think they knew we came meaning business. Sometimes when people aren’t sure of which road to take, the one influenced by a mass of people shows them the way to go. Even though they declared it a non meeting, they will remember what was said. I will present it again when it is an official meeting.

Now let me give you a timeline of what has happened with this situation and you make up your mind as to whether or not our county government is acting above board and with integrity.
1) The Planning Director sent a letter on the 14th of August saying take down the signs.
2) Ed Cable responds that the ‘save union county’ signs are not political.
3) On the 15th of September, the director sends another letter. Take down the signs
4) At the end of September, I am on the agenda with the commissioners and assert that the Planning Director violates my 1st Amendment rights. The board says they have no jurisdiction over this issue.
5) On the 1st of October I try to present my grievance to the Board of Adjustment. They say that I am not on the agenda so they will not allow me to present the letter.
6) On the 29th of October I am on the agenda for the ‘Board of Adjustment’ and present my grievance. My lawyer advises the board that they did not give proper notification for the meeting and they violated the zoning ordinance and the state law. The meeting is declared a non meeting and adjourns.
7) At the County Commissioners meeting on the 3rd of November, the States Attorney, Mr. Jerry Miller, advises the board to suspend the portion of the zoning ordinance that pertains to the signs as they would lose this case if it went to court. The ordinance is not constitutional in the sign portion. The board acts to suspend enforcement of the signs. At the same meeting Mr. Miller advises the board that he, Mr. Henze and the Planning and Zoning had been aware of this situation for at least a month and a half. This lends further credence to my claim that the actions by the Planning Director were intentional.

Now here is my problem with all of this. I retained a lawyer for counsel back at the end of September, to make sure that I did everything correctly and according to the law. He was with me when I made my presentation to the board of adjustment. It is unconscionable to me to think that they knew what Henze did was highly irregular and probably not legal but said nothing. (County Government 201). I have learned my lesson and hope everyone will benefit from my experiences. If you are going to deal with government, you had better be prepared for just about any situation, and that things move through the system very slowly. I can vouch for this. period.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I Tell It Like It Is!

November 4th, 2009
I tell it like it is!
This week’s article is a no brainer. For those of you who were unable to make it to the board of adjustment hearing last Thursday, I am printing excerpts from the speech I gave to the board. At the end of the meeting, my lawyer informed them that they were in violation of SDCL (South Dakota Codified Law) and the rules of the zoning ordinance. The board then decided this hearing was not a legal meeting and adjourned, to be reconvened at a later date. (I really hate to be correcting government officials all the time.)
It is my belief that Mr. Henze, acting in the performance of his job as the Union County Planning Director, has taken actions in regards to signs posted in Union County which is both wrong and inappropriate.
In a letter to Mr. Ed Cable on August 14, 2009, Dennis Henze stated that all ‘vote no Hyperion’ and ‘save Union County’ signs must be taken down and removed or he will have them removed at the owner’s expense.
Mr. Cable responded that the ‘Save Union County’ signs were not political and not subject to the county’s actions. Mr. Henze sent another letter on the 15th of September again stating these signs are political and must be removed.
This affects me personally as I have two ‘Save Union County’ signs posted on my property.
At the commissioners meeting on the 11th of August, Commissioner Ross Jordan asked Mr. Henze just how long these ‘vote no’ signs are allowed to stay up. He said they say ‘vote no’ so it is obviously related to a vote. He said he was sick and tired of looking at these ugly signs and that the vote is long over.
The ‘vote no’ signs were put up well before the county-wide referendum in June of 2008. The save union county signs even longer. At the time these signs were governed by the 1978 zoning ordinance. The 1978 ordinance makes no reference to how long they may remain up. I contend that the ‘Vote No’ signs and the ‘Save Union County’ signs are governed by the old ordinance.
The new ordinance that went into effect on the 12th of November 2008 does reference that all ‘political’ signs must be removed within 5 days after the election. This is where things get complicated.
#1. I just don’t see how you can interpret an ordinance to say that something done under the old ordinance that was legal is now illegal and therefore subject to the directives of the current ordinance. It certainly doesn’t say that anywhere in the new ordinance. In fact, it doesn’t even say this ordinance supersedes the old one.
#2. The new zoning ordinance has no definition of the term ‘political’, besides, it is my contention that ‘save union county’ signs are not political signs and were never intended to be political or they would have had ‘paid for’ or the ‘ballot question committee’ statement on them.
#3. There is no presumption that a sign stating: ‘Save Union County’-- is political. If the sign had a cross in the upper left hand corner, would it be a religious sign? Or is it still a personal sign. I contend that since no political statements or symbols like a donkey or an elephant are present, ‘Save Union County’ is a personal sign that expresses a personal opinion-- nothing more, and nothing less.
By Mr. Henze saying it is his interpretation that these are political signs is nothing more than one person's opinion, but because of his appointed position, it is tantamount to censorship if he exerts his personal agenda on citizens under the guise of enforcing a portion of the current zoning ordinance. Where in this ordinance does it give Mr. Henze the authority to censor the content of signs? The ordinance does not give Mr. Henze the authority to act beyond the scope of the ordinance.
I think that Mr. Henze purposely intended to infringe upon the people’s Constitutional Right to freely and openly express their personal opinions, which is the essence of Freedom of Speech under the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. Furthermore, I believe that Mr. Henze intended to intimidate us to remove the ‘Save Union County’ signs by the threat of unlawful search and seizure which is prohibited under the 4th Amendment of the Constitution.
The County Commissioners appointed Mr. Henze to his position. He was not elected. He is our employee. His interpretation of the Ordinance should not be final. Rather, also be the subject of the board’s objective judgment.
He is abusing his position as the Union County Planning Director to intimate people by using the zoning ordinance as a weapon to threaten and punish people who disobey him. Tolerance of a person’s right to freedom of speech and opinion should always be given the utmost respect. The threat of unlawful search and seizure is totally out of line and unacceptable.
1) I am requesting that Mr. Henze be ordered to cite the specific Article(s) and Section(s) that grant him the authority and power to order us to remove personal property from our land.
2) I am requesting that he be required to make a written detailed statement of the guidelines that he used to justify his decision in this matter.
3) I am requesting that you to reverse Mr. Henze’s order directing us to remove personal property from our land on the grounds that the Ordinance as cited above does not authorize his actions and that Mr. Henze acted beyond the scope of his authority and employment by ordering the removal of the signs.
4) I am asking that the planning and zoning commissioners take the necessary steps to ensure that there is never a repeat of this abuse by the Union County Planning Director.

Peat and Repeat

October 28, 2009
Peat and Repeat
This has been an odd week for news on Hyperion. There was an article in ‘My Voice’ in the Argus Leader written by associate professor of Physics at South Dakota State University, Professor Robert McTaggart, that should really get the ball rolling again for people who have doubts about the validity of Hyperion. The article is titled ‘Carbon sequestration still not safe, practical.’ In the article he states that it is not cost effective under current carbon capture and storage technologies. Furthermore we (Hyperion) will have to burn 30% more coal just to provide the energy to do the sequestration. There are questions on how compressed carbon dioxide will interact with rock, water and microbes underground and whether the storage is truly permanent. Safety also is an issue for the transport of carbon dioxide on the surface and its delivery underground.
Now, let’s look at this from a local standpoint. There is a ‘Professor Emeritus’ in physics from the University of South Dakota living right in this area. Do you suppose he knows this and hasn’t said anything to anyone about the volatility of sequestered carbon? I mean if an associate professor from SDSU can come out with these facts and figures, surely his peers in this profession know about it, he is just the one who comes forward with doubts. I guess it is like all theories in science, everybody has an opinion, just who are we to believe? I for one, because of my skepticism about Hyperion in the first place, believe what the professor from SDSU has to say. I might be dumb, but I’m not stupid! From everything I’ve read about IGCC and carbon capture it won’t work on a commercial scale. It is too much to handle. Now if we can figure that out, why can’t the State of South Dakota DENR and the BME figure it out? They must have blinders on and can only see the money. They can’t see the forest for the trees. What gets me more than anything is they must know this and choose to ignore it. This is like beating your head against the wall, it feels so good when you quit. Surely there must be questions about safety in transporting this to its final resting place. I realize carbon dioxide is an inert gas, but anything under pressure will explode when it gets beyond a safe level. When you overinflate a tire it will rupture and blow up. Why should carbon sequestration be any different? You can’t tell me that just because you can drill a hole in the ground below the level of the shale that you can keep the gas from resurfacing somewhere you don’t expect it and cause serious damage. That’s poppycock. It might not happen for 20 years; it might not happen for 20,000 but it is going to happen. But then we will all be dead and gone so who cares anyway. That’s enough about that. It is like beating a dead horse.
I was talking to an individual the other night and he came up with an interesting question about Hyperion. I’m sure it is on everyone’s mind, we just didn’t let it come to the forefront. With all the talk about cap and trade, what is to prevent Hyperion from not even building a refinery at all and just make money from selling credits to companies that exceed the limits? Hyperion has admitted that they will emit 19 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. Why did they stop at 19 Million? Why didn’t they say 29 Million? The thing is if they only emit 10 Million and they are permitted to emit 19 Million, then they can sell the 9 Million in credits for let’s say $100 a ton and make $19 Million a year and haven’t even done anything. Don’t forget, they have the air permit, so now that they can start construction they can just wait until the cap and trade is passed then just sit back and watch the money roll in. why not $1000 a ton? It is whatever the market will bear. Now don’t corner me on the street and ask me what the hell I’m talking about because I’m no expert on this, but the way Hyperion is operating, it wouldn’t surprise me.
I had an opportunity to listen and speak with Scott Munsterman last week at the library in Elk Point. I had talked to him last summer at the Union County fair in Alcester, and asked him the same question again about Hyperion. He dodged the answer by saying he is getting fully briefed about the situation and when he is elected governor he will take a step back on Hyperion. Fat chance. He also said he is a proponent of developing the I-29 corridor. He believes in local control and that this is an opportunity we shouldn’t pass up. I hate to be the eternal pessimist, but I told him that from an environmental standpoint, developing the I-29 corridor is a fast track to disaster because local control will be no control. Look what has happened with the Hyperion debacle. The state and the governor are so eager to have them come in, they fast tracked the company and it was a done deal before we knew about it. I’ll bet they didn’t even ask for a financial statement. Trust them, they are good guys. I don’t believe there is anyone who would look at it from a health perspective and certainly not from an environmental one. I can’t believe that it would be beneficial to us at all. What do you think this area will look like in 25 years? Are you going to protect your family or just let things take their course?