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$140M Ethanol Plant Facing Delays

Opponents have sued over zoning approval, saying officials improperly rezoned the site for commercial agriculture processing. The county said the argument lacked substance but an appeal has been made to the state Supreme Court.

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ONIDA, S.D. (AP) — A $140 million ethanol plant planned just outside of Onida, SD is having trouble getting off the ground due to legal, financial and regulatory hurdles.

Ringneck Energy had hoped to start construction this spring and have the plant operating in a year, but the company is about $20 million short of the $75 million in startup money it needs, despite dozens of investor meetings late last year, according to its president and CEO, Walt Wendland.

"We gave local farmers and businessmen and the people of South Dakota a chance and we wished we would have gotten more involvement," Wendland said. "But since December we have worked hard to find large investors to finish the project." The company also is still awaiting a state air quality permit that it had expected to have by February. The state Department of Energy and Natural Resources has had to respond to comments from plant opponents, the Capital Journal reported ( ).

Some opponents also have sued over Sully County's zoning approval for the plant, saying officials improperly rezoned the site for commercial agriculture processing to make way for the plant. The county said the argument was technical and lacked substance, and a state district judge late last year affirmed the zoning decision. Opponents have appealed to the state Supreme Court.

"We are looking for a hearing date for that to be set as soon as possible, and even that will probably be August or September," Wendland said. Dirt work began at the plant site last fall, but any construction isn't likely until this fall, with the plant not operating until late 2018, according to Wendland.

The plant is to produce 70 million gallons of ethanol fuel annually from about 25 million bushels of corn grown in the region. It will employ about 40 people.

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