LAPORTE — Another in a series of hurdles has been cleared for Kingsbury Elevator to operate a nitrogen fertilizer plant.
The LaPorte County Plan Commission on May 25 approved a request to rezone the site at Kingsbury Industrial Park from business to heavy industry. If the LaPorte County Commissioners uphold the zoning change, a special exception to the zoning change must be obtained from the LaPorte County Board of Zoning Appeals for the fertilizer plant to begin operating.
Approval by the Plan Commission was granted despite the fact that the proposed facility began receiving and storing fertilizer, in the form of anhydrous ammonia, before receiving the necessary rezoning. That activity was unveiled by Plan Commission member Rita Beaty, who reported a storage tank at the site was filled from a semi-truck on May 21 and again three days later.
Anthony Novak, attorney for Kingsbury Elevator, said the anhydrous ammonia was ordered in December when final approval for the plant was expected in March.
He said the rail shipment was on its way before snags delaying approval developed. Delivery could not be stopped, he said.
Novak said he also informed his clients not to order any more of the chemical to avoid possibly jeopardizing it.
“I can’t get around the fact that it was done. I have told them to stop,” he said.
Beaty said it wasn’t the first time the Plan Commission has been "leap-frogged."
“I guess I just have an issue with going ahead and asking for forgiveness later. As many years as I’ve been here, that’s become an issue now and then,” she said.
Novak said the change in zoning conforms with the surrounding industrial use at the over 600-acre park, and the proposal meets the distance requirements for ammonia used in agriculture.
He said the tanks are more than 1,000 feet from the former Cheers banquet hall and nearest church and over 400 feet from the closest residence.
Kingsbury Elevator owner Ed Lindborg plans to receive nitrogen fertilizer on Canadian National rail cars from production facilities in Mississippi, Iowa and Canada and store it until the chemical is ready for delivery on semi-trucks to retailers in northern Indiana and southern Michigan.
Local farmers could also go directly to the elevator to purchase fertilizer.
Anydrous ammonia, a liquid when stored under pressure, reverts back to a gas and forms a vapor cloud when released into the air.
Bill Field, a farm safety expert at Purdue University, said the greatest danger from a leak is exposure to the vapors, which can produce severe and deadly burns to the skin, eyes and lungs.
He said the gas is not typically explosive during a leak because of how quickly dissipates in the air.
Field said powerful explosions are more likely from impact by a motor vehicle or during a derailment.
The liquid from impact expands and if the tanks are overfilled the pressure builds inside the containers until they explode, he said.
Because of the risks, LaPorte County Building Commissioner Michael Polan suggested a commitment in writing from Kingsbury Elevator that local firefighters will be regularly trained in responding to any emergencies.
“This particular petition has generated a lot of interest from the public and my office has been receiving the calls and e-mails. There appears to be no explosive risk, which was a concern in some of the calls, but there is an airborne danger if there were any leaks,” Polan said.
Novak said all of the necessary approvals from the state have been obtained and hopes for all local approvals this month.