EVART — Developers of an estimated $1 billion salt and potash manufacturing plant in Evart Township have cleared arguably their biggest hurdle in getting the project off the ground.

Recently, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy approved an air permit request essentially giving the Denver-based Michigan Potash Company the green light to build the facility on 100 acres of land near Chippewa Lake in southern Osceola County.

Aric Glasser, chief sustainability officer with Michigan Potash, said with the EGLE permit approved, they are “truly shovel ready” and expect to begin constructing the facility this spring, pending finalization of financing for the project.

Michigan Potash intends to mine, refine and package potash for use as a farm and garden fertilizer. The facility also will manufacture food-grade salt.

Glasser said based on their expertise in the industry, as well as a third party analysis, they’ve determined that the potash in Evart Township is coming from the “highest grade ore on the planet,” with enough in the ground to sustain plant operations for the next 150 years.

Currently, Glasser said about 20% of the potash used in the U.S. is imported from Russia and Belarus. Once the Evart Township plant is up and running, Glasser said it will produce enough potash to significantly lessen the country’s reliance on those imports.

Another benefit to consumers of the domestic potash product is that the mineral won’t sustain as much damage during the shipping process and will be much higher quality when it reaches American farms, Glasser said.

During the building process, which is expected to take three years, Michigan Potash has stated that 300 full-time construction jobs will be created. Once the facility is up and running, it will support 150 full-time permanent positions and add around $500 million to Michigan’s gross domestic production and generate $1.25 million in annual royalties for the state.

In addition, Michigan Potash has estimated that the facility will generate about $2.75 million per year in taxes for local governmental units, including Evart Township and Osceola County.

“It’s going to be a big, big impact for the surrounding try-county area,” Glasser said.

Evart Township Supervisor Doug Derscheid said they’ve been in communication with Michigan Potash about the proposed facility for some time but it’s too soon to say what kind of impact the increase in tax dollars could have on the township.

The Cadillac News reached out to Mark Gregory, chairman of the Osceola County Board of Commissioners, and James Custer, District 6 commissioner representing Evart Township, to find out what the tax increase could mean for the county but did not hear back by press time.

Michigan Potash for several years has been fine-tuning the facility proposal and discussing it with local municipal officials. Along the way, they’ve received some pushback, including a legal challenge from the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation that was dismissed in 2019.

There also have been a number of concerns expressed by area residents who worry about potential leakage from the plant’s injection wells, along with other environmental effects, and who also are incredulous about the economic growth projections made by Michigan Potash.

“Several people came to this hearing gushing about economic growth,” said Hersey resident Doug Miller during a public hearing in 2018. “They really expect that this potash-mine will bring about an economic re-birth for Evart and Osceola County. Thirty years ago, PPG Industries started an identical potash-mine in Hersey Township, less than 2 miles from this one. If there was any sort of growth or re-birth from that, I didn’t see it. In fact, during that period Hersey lost the only school it had. That is most definitely not a sign of growth.”

Conversely, the project also has been praised by a number of local officials and organizations, including the mayor of Evart, Michigan Farm Bureau and others.

“Being raised in a large farm community I understand the importance of a businesses such as Michigan Potash,” Evart Mayor Christina Emerick wrote in a letter of support for the air permit request. “Our farmers here in the U.S. grow food for the entire world while having to import more than 96% of the potash necessary for plant growth from other countries. The U.S. Potash Project will strengthen and secure the supply of this critical mineral and natural fertilizer that only Michigan can supply domestically. Forecasting the creation of more than 300 jobs during the projected three-year construction phase and 150 full-time operations positions indefinitely, the U.S. Potash Project is the type of economic investment that our community needs.”

“In the United States, agricultural demand for potash — a critical mineral and natural fertilizer — remains at an all-time high,” wrote Laura Campbell, manager of the Agricultural Ecology Department for Michigan Farm Bureau. “However, because of recent international events, the price of potash has nearly doubled in 2021 alone to nearly $600 per ton, which places a spotlight on national food security ... With this permit application, Michigan Potash has shown it is committed to developing a U.S. potash supply in a safe and responsible manner that supports Michigan’s farmers and agricultural community.”

According to EGLE, using a process known as solution mining, Michigan Potash will pump heated water and brine (concentrated salt water) into a deep geologic formation known as the A1 Evaporite. These fluids will dissolve salt and potash out of the formation and the resulting salt- and potash-rich fluids will be pumped back to the surface.

The salt and potash will be separated using a crystallization process. The crystallized salt and potash will be sent to separate natural gas fired dryers. Each dryer will have a wet scrubber to control or reduce particulate emissions. The dried salt will be cooled, compacted, and packaged and the dried potash will be cooled and compacted inside enclosed buildings. The particulate emissions from these processes will be controlled or reduced by two baghouse dust collectors.

Before approving the air permit request, EGLE solicited feedback on the proposed facility and held a virtual hearing to hear comments from the public.

Many of the people who provided feedback asked about the potential effect the plant’s operations could have on quality of life for area residents, and how emissions will be adequately monitored.

“The (EGLE Air Quality Division) does not have an ambient air monitor close enough to the proposed facility; the closest monitor is 50 miles away and it does not monitor all the pollutants Michigan Potash will emit,” one commenter wrote. “If the permit is approved, an air monitor should be installed in the immediate area of the facility. The AQD should look at how the facility will impact air quality in the Big Rapids, Paris, Reed City, and Evart areas that are most potentially impacted by the proposed facility.”

In response to this comment, AQD responded that the Missaukee County monitor is representative of Northern Michigan and can be used in the dispersion modeling analysis for Michigan Potash.

“Note, the ambient pollutant concentrations will be highest at the facility fence line and will decrease with distance from the facility,” AQD continued. “Given the distance to Big Rapids, Paris, Reed City, and Evart, with Evart being the closest at about six miles, the AQD expects there would be no detectable impact on air quality in these cities due to the operation of the Michigan Potash facility.”

Another person asked how Michigan Potash’s treatment of hydrogen sulfide differs from the “troublesome systems used by PPG, Kalium Chemicals, and Mosaic Chemicals in the past?”

“That facility had scrubbers that were supposed to remove the (hydrogen sulfide) but periodically I was subjected to large releases of (hydrogen sulfide) which made my eyes burn and caused nausea until the facility ceased mining potash.”

In response, Michigan Potash provided the following information, which was included in the Air Quality Division’s report.

“The applicant’s proposed air permit, specific to the (hydrogen sulfide) treatment portion, has been proposed with greater redundancy and new technologies. This includes advances in real time monitoring. The applicant’s (hydrogen sulfide) handling equipment has duplicate, redundant stripping towers to reduce maintenance-related downtime, a permit condition requiring the use of a thermal oxidizer, and real time monitoring of system efficacy. The precedent facility was also allowed greater by-pass hours (for the purpose of maintenance) than that proposed by the applicant.”

Another person asked about the sulfur dioxide that will be emitted by the plant and if the odor it produces would “interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life and property” for adjacent residents?

“(Sulfur dioxide) has an odor threshold of 1,800 — 11,800 μg/m3 although some may be able to detect an odor at 170 μg/m3,” AQD responded. “The modeled (sulfur dioxide) concentration from the facility by itself is 39.1 μg/m3, which is well below the lowest odor threshold. Therefore, we would not expect the emissions to cause any adverse impacts to nearby residents.”

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