Employees at Al-Corn Clean Fuel were still cleaning up on Monday, after a fermentation tank collapse Saturday spilled around 420,000 gallons of corn mash onto the plant floor.
Randall Doyal, CEO of Al-Corn Clean Fuel, said no one was injured in the incident, though a carbon steel tank with a capacity of about 250,000 gallons gave way in the early hours on New Year’s Day.
But that isn't the story. Al-Corn had already realized that the tank needed to be replaced, and applied for a permit from the MPCA to do so. They applied eight months ago.
“The ironic thing is we had identified this as an issue some time back and had applied for a permit for a new tank, and that had been held back,” said Doyal. “There’s actually a pair of tanks there that we have identified as needing to be replaced.”
Doyal said the plant had applied for a permit from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to get clearance to replace the 15- to 16-year-old carbon steel tank with a stainless steel tank, but that permit had not been granted until last Thursday — about eight months after Al-Corn had applied for the permit.
Eight months to decide to issue a permit to replace one tank with another? And a Minnesota company forced to wait for a government agency in order to do what they knew had to be done.
In fact, the company already had the footing in place for a new tank, in order to replace that tank that collapsed Saturday. Al-Corn had initially arranged for construction crews to begin work in June or July. Doyal said while he would have expected such a permit to be approved in one day in Iowa, the MPCA determined that there was a change in the permit request, slowing down the process.
Thank God that no one was hurt, because if they had the MPCA could have been liable.
“We honestly think we were very blessed in that no one was injured. You can fix equipment all day. We’re just thankful that no one was hurt,” he said.
Nonetheless, Al-Corn now has the cost of clean-up, the overtime incurred, and the repairs to the building and facility to pay for, likely to run in the tens of thousands. This accident never should have happened, and the company never should have been forced to wait so long for a simple permit.
This is exactly the type job-killing regulation that the new Legislature needs to be identifying and removing from Minnesota law.