Monday, November 05, 2007


Some folks up in Blair, Wisconsin decided they'd had enough and blockaded a corn storage facility in protest.

Say what?

Well, I'm sure they'd ask you what you would think about having corn dust falling like snow coating everything in your neighborhood. And after you'd done what good citizens do, taken the matter politely to the local authorities to no avail to local authorities, then what?

I mean sweeping three buckets of dust off your car seems cause for concern to me. In addition to wondering what the stuff was doing to my property and why I had to be out shoveling, I'd start to worry about my health.

That's when some folks set up the blockade and lo and behold that got some attention...finally.

The new storage facility (pictured here) is owned by the Wisconsin Rapids Grain and the it holds one hell of a lot of stuff. The company blamed corn dust blizzard on the wind and said it would die down soon and maybe they'd wet the corn down to keep the dust from going up residents noses.

They couldn't have foreseen the problem?

No one could figure out that placing the facility in the middle of a residential district near a park might not be a great idea!

No one thought of health problems for those living nearby?

Jack L. Runyan, Agriculture and Rural Economy Division, Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture wrote that in 1832, some dude named Charles Thackrah "described a relationship between asthma and inhalation of corn dust." That was only about 175 years ago. By the way, numerous recent studies have also implicated corn dust in respiratory dsyfunctions including acute respiratory inflamation, and powder derived allergies.

But the big company just couldn't be concerned with the 1500 or so residents of tiny Blair.

How about the town government? It couldn't maybe have taken some action sooner...maybe listened to the residents of the town...maybe looked out the window?

I'd say its time to kick out the yoyos running the city government and start anew with some people who pay attention to their constituents.

Last June Wisconsin Rapid Grain ran the following notice on its web site:

"Looking for a place to store or dry your grain?
Blair Grain is coming to Blair, WI this Fall!
Call Us to Book your New Crop Corn or For Further Questions!
Blair Office 608-989-2061

We will offer:
Grain Drying at 3,000 Bushels/Hr.
1.5 Million Bushels of Dry Storage
100,000 Bushels of Wet Storage
On scale dumping for convenience
25 Car Raliroad Loadout System

Coming in 2008:
500,000 Bushels of Soybean Storage"

Oh what a joy their arrival has been.

Someone commenting on the situation emailed the following the the La Cross, Wisconsin paper:

" Ahhhhhhh... it has been 38 years since I left Blair. It seems they have not updated their zoning laws - allowing a plant like this to be located so close to a residential area. I have to wonder what the plant owners told the city council when they asked to build this plant. But then, perhaps the council couldn't wait to have a new plant - one paying low wages and few benefits? "

One last thought. Let's hope the facility never blows up.

Just about a week ago a huge explosion ripped part of the roof off a grain elevator in southern Minnesota early Oct. 25, sending up a fireball that one witness briefly mistook for the sun. It was the second explosion at a Minnesota grain elevator since Oct. 22, when the Wendell Farmers Elevator was heavily damaged.

Of grain dust explosions Robert Schoeff, a professor emeritus from Kansas State University and a national expert on such explosions, said, ""It's very intense heat--1,500 to 2,000 degrees--in the middle of the fire ball."

Dust from corn is among the most dangerous. "Corn dust, corn starch is some of the most explosive stuff that we've got," he said.

Why do we have to put up with this kind of crap?

Yeah, under the circumstances these everyday Americans living in Blair faced, I might be inclined to carry out a few blockades myself.

The following story is from the La Cross Tribune (Wisconsin).

Frustrated neighbors blockade Blair Grain

BLAIR, Wis. — Tempers flared Saturday as Trempealeau County authorities and Blair officials responded to frustrated neighbors who temporarily blockaded a controversial corn elevator to protest corn dust coating the neighborhood.

After some heated exchanges, authorities and tow trucks were called, but Harold “Punk” Olson and his son Brady, who own the mobile home park across the street from Blair Grain, agreed to move their vehicles after discussion with Sheriff Richard Anderson and Blair Mayor Ardell Knutson. No immediate arrests were made or citations issued.

Knutson and Anderson went into the elevator office and came out to announce to a group of neighbors that the plant was going to shut down its drying operation over the weekend in hopes that it would eliminate some of the dust. Knutson told the neighbors the company said it would also start to work on a containment unit around the dryer. A city meeting with plant officials also is being planned to discuss the neighbors’ concerns, Knutson said.

Knutson said he doesn’t believe the city has the authority to shut the operation down, but he wants the conflict resolved.

“I hope it can be corrected so everyone can settle down,” Knutson said, referring to the upset neighbors. “I don’t blame them. I would be too if I lived there.”

This is the first year of operation for Blair Grain, which recently finished construction on a 1.6 million bushel corn storage facility at Park Road and Center Street near a residential area downtown. The elevators are used to store shelled corn. It is the dust from the shelled corn, called “bees wings” that is being released into the air and into the neighborhood.

Harold Olson said he has complained to the city and Blair Grain owners several times over the past two weeks about the dust. He showed up Saturday after several residents in the 35-unit mobile home park called him after waking up to find another coating of fine corn dust on their roofs, cars and over the ground.

One of those neighbors is Charlene Greenwold, who said she thought snow was falling Friday night when she stepped outside her home. She grabbed a flashlight and quickly realized it was not snow but corn dust.

“Look at this (expletive),” Greenwold said, wiping her hand in disgust across her dusty windshield.

Nearby homes also are affected. Randy Ekern, who works for the city of Blair, said he filed a complaint with police three weeks ago after sweeping off a bucket of corn dust from his three collector cars stored inside his garage. Ekern said he’s worried about the value of his property decreasing and the potential damage the dust could cause to cars, equipment and furnaces.

Knutson said the city has contacted Wisconsin Rapids Grain, which operates Blair Grain. Company president Douglas Weinkauf said in a letter sent Monday to the city that the end of the corn drying will be soon as the harvest winds down. He also said the company will try to wet the corn to keep the dust down.

“Once the facility is filled, we will not be drying corn anymore this season and thus not generating anymore bees wings this season,” Weinkauf’s letter said. The containment unit around the dryer and another around the scale will be complete by next year, he said.

“We feel that these changes will vastly reduce the problems we have encountered this year,” Weinkauf’s letter said. “Please keep in mind, as we explained from the beginning, there is no completely dust-free or bees wings-free solution. However, we are going to do our best to reduce the problems and come up with a livable solution.”

Harold Olson said Saturday’s blockade was a way to get more attention to the problem.

“I fear for the health and welfare of the public in the city of Blair,” Olson said.

Mobile home park resident Dawn Peterson said her son has asthma and is concerned about his health. Peterson said she takes five different medications to deal with various allergies she says have been aggravated by the dust.

Possible health concerns are being addressed by Trempealeau County. Cherie Rohde, who works with the county’s environmental/health department, told residents Saturday that an investigation by her department is underway. “Until we can do the investigation, there’s nothing we can do,” she said.

Residents also complained about large grain trucks driving on the street, which has a five-ton weight restriction. Knutson said the company agreed to have trucks exit at the other entrance, which is accessible by streets built to handle the heavier loads.

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