WisBusiness: Sparta votes against ethanol referendum

By Gregg Hoffmann

SPARTA – The Sparta City Council rejected by a 6-2 vote a proposal to hold an advisory referendum on a controversial proposed ethanol plant Tuesday night.

City Attorney Richard Heitman had advised the Council that a referendum would have gone against Wisconsin law. Some council members cited that opinion in voting against a referendum.

The rejection of the referendum clears the way for votes in October on rezoning the 82-acre site and on a conditional-use permit for the project. The referendum would have gone before voters Nov. 6.

Coulee Area Renewable Energy LLC (CARE) officials estimate the ethanol plant will create 40 full-time jobs and produce about 55 million gallons of ethanol a year from 20 million to 22 million bushels of corn.

The issue has been debated for months, with a lawsuit filed, mediation attempted and even the intervention of Gov. Jim Doyle.

The Friends of Sparta citizens group and Century Foods International have led the opposition. The citizens group filed a petition with 787 signatures seeking an advisory referendum. Century officials have argued the emissions will contaminate its milk-based products, at a nearby plant, which employs 350 people.

Farmers and other investors in CARE dispute that claim, and say the plant will have the latest technology to reduce emissions.