IXONIA — A number of citizens have been talking to the Daily Times this week about their concerns over a proposed We Energies liquid natural gas project site that, if realized, would sit on approximately 120 acres northeast of Hill and North roads.
It would be operational by late 2023.
In addition to the site in Ixonia, the total project would also include a site in Walworth County’s Town of LaGrange. Each site would cost approximately $185 million.
The Ixonia Plan Commission recently voted against allowing the LNG storage facility by a vote of 3-2.
According to We Energies, each site would include pre-treatment equipment, the liquid gas storage tank, vaporization equipment and truck loading/unloading equipment.
We Energies is planning to purchase the Ixonia property near the Hill/North roads intersection if the project is approved. The facility, itself, would occupy approximately 20 acres of the more than 100 acres We Energies is pursuing. The tank would hold 12 million gallons of gas and would be 150 feet high and 150 feet in diameter. A typical water tower in the U.S. is said to be 140 feet high.
We Energies officials said southeastern Wisconsin is in need of additional natural gas supplies to meet customer use on the coldest days of the year. Ixonia is a strategic location for the utility because there are gas lines already nearby.
We Energies Project Manager Rick O’Conor said the state Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, the state Department of Transportation and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration have regulatory authority over the facilities and their locations. The Wisconsin Consumer Protection Bureau will also have limited jurisdiction.
Mary Rupnow of Ixonia said the facility is not just a storage tank, it is a natural gas refinery.
“The risks associated with it far outweigh any monetary benefit that the Town of Ixonia and Jefferson County would receive,” she said. “If you do some research regarding incidents with LNG facilities you will find risks of explosion, vapor dispersion, thermal radiation and a flashing /jetting release.”
Rupnow said it is the site’s location that bothers her most.
“This plant is far too close to residential uses — it is 800 feet to the nearest house and Ixonia Elementary School is within three-quarters of a mile,” she said. “In addition, a wetland and environmental corridor lie within the footprint of the site and would be compromised, which would be shamefully irresponsible. That is the DNR’s responsibility to protect.”
Dyan Pasono of Watertown explained why she is opposed to the facility.
“The environmental impact of this proposed site is unacceptable,” she said. “The proposed location sits next to a wetland and is directly adjacent to a drainage ditch that flows into the Rock River. The Rock River has already been identified as an impaired waterway by the EPA. We already have a CAFO property nearby that drains into the Rock River. We should not allow additional potential runoff from this facility to drain into this precious river that many local citizens use for fishing and recreation. The Sierra Club has submitted a formal legal request to intervene in this case in the interest of a clean environment.”
Pasono also said Ixonia Elementary School is too close to the proposed site.
“This is completely unacceptable and should have been one of the first items considered by We Energies when the initial location idea was floated,” she said. “As a recently retired public school principal, I have grave concerns for the young lives that may be lost should an explosion occur, not to mention the evacuation plans and drills that will further burden staff and children at this school. If, or when, a gas leak occurs and an explosion results, the intense flames and damage done to the impacted area – including the school – is likely to be catastrophic. This risk alone should disqualify the North Road site proposal.”
Pasono said the intersection of North Road and Highway 16, where Ixonia Elementary School is located, is already a dangerous one and the additional traffic created by the plant would further complicate the junction.
“This intersection becomes especially dangerous during school hours, with buses and parents coming and going,” she said. “Adding construction trucks and We Energies vehicles to this intersection will surely result in multiple vehicular accidents with a high risk for fatalities.”
The storage facility will take up to two years to build and North Road was just improved using local tax dollars. Pasono said the road was not widened to accommodate construction vehicles and the amount of truck traffic on the road during the construction phase “will decimate the new road — a total waste of our tax dollars.”
Pasono said We Energies looked at two other sites within Jefferson County.
“One of the sites does not sit next to a wetland, does not sit directly adjacent to a drainage ditch that flows into the Rock River, has far greater distance to the nearest residence, and has less population living within a half-mile of the facility,” she said. “When We Energies representatives were questioned about this at the Ixonia Planning Commission meeting in recent days, they indicated there would be more costs associated with this other site. Can a price be put on the impact to an elementary school?”
According to town officials, Ixonia’s zoning plan for the northeast quadrant of the town does not allow for industrial development.
“The town’s zoning plan has this quadrant identified for future residential growth,” Pasono said. “If an industrial complex is allowed to be built on this site, no one will ever move into this quadrant previously targeted for residential growth. Additionally, current home values within this quadrant will plummet. Many individuals purchased land and built homes in this quadrant due to the fact it was zoned residential. The Ixonia Town Board should honor and abide by their land use and zoning plan.”
Donna Hann of Ixonia has asked the plan commission not to approve the conditional use for the facility based on the existing comprehensive plan that was developed by these members and to look at sites based on the existing comprehensive plan.
She said she found out recently that the residents who live around this proposed site don’t have We Energies gas service.
“They all have propane tanks, which is interesting because We Energies never said that, by building this facility, it would help the residents get natural gas from We Energies.
As a member of Ixonia’s planning commission, June Herman made the motion to deny the conditional use permit for the facility. She said she did this for several reasons.
“First, Jefferson County zoning is all about protecting agricultural land,” she said. “Ixonia has a quality of life centered around a farm/rural community. This facility belongs near an industrial or commercial zone, not in the middle of agricultural land, wetlands and surrounded by residences,” she said. “Second, placement in the location changes the nature of the properties for quite a distance around the facility. The tank is 150 high and will be visible for miles. It has a life/use expectancy of 30 years. That’s the rest of their lives for many residents in that area. There will be light and noise pollution. Even if (efforts are made) to minimize it, it cannot be eliminated and residents won’t have the peaceful countryside they enjoy now.”
Herman has been a realtor for 37 years and said the homes for a mile or more around the site will lose value.
“Those homes were built in this area to allow people to enjoy the countryside and a quiet lifestyle,” she said. “They have the right to continue to enjoy that.”
Herman said she looks out for the residents of Ixonia, as well as town government.
“This facility damages many residents financially and emotionally and is not good for the future of Ixonia,” Herman said. “We have an elementary school near the facility location. We have enjoyed continued growth. The Rock River winds throughout our community — a benefit to our values — and is within drainage distance of this facility. I understand the needs of the utility, but the facility needs to be placed in an industrial or commercial area.”
Project permits and approvals that need to be obtained by We Energies include a Wisconsin PSC Certificate of Authority. Also needed are NFPA and PHMSA site setbacks, as well as safety and fire protection evaluations; Wisconsin DNR permits; town and county permits, such as conditional use permits, building permits and a driveway permit.
The schedule for the project includes:
Fall 2020 — Anticipated PSCW decision.
If the project is approved:
Spring 2021 — start construction.
Spring 2023 — Begin start-up and filling LNG tank.
Fall 2023 — Commercial operation.
The matter will come before the Ixonia Town Board during a regular board session scheduled for Aug. 17.
LaGrange has already approved its project.
Jefferson County Board Supervisor Amy Rinard represents Ixonia and said the site is a poor choice.
“This proposed 15-story, 20-acre industrial project in the middle of an agricultural area, on a narrow town road, at the edge of a wetland, close to dozens of homes and an elementary school is so wrong for the proposed location,” she said. “Ixonia is one of the fastest growing areas of Jefferson County, in terms of residential growth. People want to live here. This mammoth natural gas plant would not facilitate or support future growth in Ixonia or Jefferson County, because all this gas would flow into Waukesha County and areas east of us. It would bring an abrupt halt to residential growth in our area. Who would want to build a new home near that place? Is this what we want Ixonia to be like, a giant industrial park?”