City debates street closure for construction of new energy plant

A new alternative energy plant could bring new jobs into St. Joseph, but not without closing down a street south of downtown.

Posted: Sep 17, 2018 6:22 PM
Updated: Sep 18, 2018 8:26 AM

(St. Joseph,MO) A new alternative energy plant could bring new jobs into St. Joseph, but not without closing down a street south of downtown. Riverbend Biofuels is interested in building a $250million alternative energy plant to convert used grease into jet fuel.

The new facility would create 55-60 new jobs with an average salary of $65,000, but the construction of the new plant would require the city to shut down a portion of Monterey Street from 6th Street to 8th Street.

Brad Lau, Vice President of Economic Development for the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce, said the property is already zoned for industrial production and the new structure will operate in addition to the biodiesel plant being restored by the company.

"The closure of Monterey, that very small section between the railroad tracks and 6th street is critical for them to be able to move forward with the project, simply because they need the ability to have one continuous track between where the biodiesel facility is down to where the old railroad staging area used to be," Lau said.

Lau estimates the 100 car fuel trains will return to St. Joseph to reload twice a month. The rails would transport approximately 70 million gallons of biodiesel and jet fuel each year.

City councilman Russell Moore said the extended rail traffic could have a bigger impact on other streets.

"The rail system does go through Monterey, it goes over to 6th street and passed 4th street and on out through the city,” Moore said. “That kind of length of a train, we're talking about tank cars, a 100 of them, that's going to close 6th street,4th street and probably Francis Street all at the same time."

The Community Action Partnership (CAP) has an office at 817 Monterey and Executive Director Whitney Lanning is worried the train delays might hurt the response times for emergency services.

"We really just want to make sure that if there are any safety issues, that we're not putting employment and economic development over safety," Lanning said.

Lanning said the council work session on September 12 was the first that CAP had heard of the proposed project and the organization was concerned about how the plant will impact the quality of life of people living near the new facility.

“The other thing that we are really looking at is how this plant will effect if there are any toxicity issues,or if there is noise issues or travel or just general safety items that may not affect us immediately, but upon the creation of the plant,” Lanning said.

A representative from Riverbend Biodiesel said the company’s investors have set October 31 as the deadline for the planning portion of the project, and is in need of the council’s final decision.

"We're just now hearing about it and there is a hard and fast deadline, we really want to make sure that the community and especially the city council is not making a rush to a decision that could have a long standing impact on the safety of our children and our families," Lanning said.

The city council will have a second work session on the potential losing of Monterey Street on October 15 at 4 pm, and the council will vote on the closing of Monterey during the council meeting October 22. If the closing of Monterey is approved by the council, developers estimate the new facility could be in operation by 2021.

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