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McLean County requires special-use permit for CO2 wells; approves plans for small business grants

McLean County administrator Cassy Taylor and County Board chair John McIntyre.
Emily Bollinger
McLean County administrator Cassy Taylor and County Board chair John McIntyre.

Energy companies that want to bring carbon capture technology to McLean County will need to get a special-use permit to set up sequestration wells, following a vote of the County Board on Thursday.

During its regular monthly meeting, the County Board also approved a new grant program to aid small businesses in McLean County.

Carbon capture technology involves pipelines that carry liquefied carbon dioxide. Injection wells submerge the CO2 deep into the rock underground.

Omaha-based Navigator has submitted plans to run a CO2 pipeline through parts of central Illinois, extracting the ozone-depleting carbon from ethanol and fertilizer plants in the upper Midwest.

Supporters say carbon capture is a climate change solution. Critics are skeptical of those claims and raise safety concerns.

The special-use permit the County Board approved sets boundaries the same as the county’s guidelines for oil and gas drilling and refining. Carbon sequestration cannot be done within 1,000 feet of a residential boundary or within 330 feet of any lot containing a dwelling, or 50 feet from any other lot line.

County officials anticipate several CO2s pipeline projects may seek to establish wells in the county, though County Board Chair John McIntyre said no company has submitted plans yet.

“We realize the necessity of getting something in place, so we try to be proactive on this and at least get a process established,” McIntyre said after the meeting,

County administrator Cassy Taylor said the special-use permit gives the county some leeway in regulating the wells because the Zoning Board of Appels would have to hold a public hearing before any permit could be approved.

Several residents have raised concerns during recent Zoning Board of Appeals and Land Use and Development Committee meetings about drilling wells through the Mahomet Aquifer, a major water source for much of central Illinois.

McIntyre noted the county struck down a fracking (oil drilling) project near Downs in 2014 over concerns about water source contamination.

The wells would also have to be permitted by U.S. EPA for a Class VI injection well for carbon dioxide sequestration. County and local governments have no control over where the carbon pipelines are sited.

Business grants

McLean County repurposed a business creation fund in 2020 to offer a revolving loan fund program for small businesses that were struggling during the COVID pandemic. It later shifted to forgivable loans. Some money also went to hotels to house displaced families during the pandemic.

The Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council (EDC) will shift the program to include up to $10,000 in grants to cover the cost of commercial space for startup businesses.

“We’re missing an incubator accelerator, so with this model, the vacant spaces in uptown (Normal) and downtown (Bloomington) and around the community, even our rural communities, could be our incubator,” EDC President and CEO Patrick Hoban said.

Hoban cited as examples a home-based business that’s looking to move into a retail space or a food truck that wants to open a restaurant.

The Community Development Corporation (CDC), a subsidiary of the EDC, will determine how the county funds are awarded.

“There are no strings tied. This is not even a forgivable loan. This is one that if you meet the qualifications and you have a viable business, it will go through the CDC for approval, almost like a Shark Tank-style concept and hopefully we start filling some of our vacant spaces,” Hoban said, adding the fund has about $380,000 currently.

The fund can still be used for 0% gap loans to supplement a traditional loan. Hoban said he expects greater demand for the loans now because interest rates have risen. He said the recovery loans during COVID did not see as much demand as expected ($195,000 was awarded) because many businesses got financial assistance from the state and federal governments.

In other business, the County Board also:

  • Approved the county’s expanded participation in the Ecology Action Center’s Tree Corps program. Its aim is to plant 10,000 trees across the county per year as an effort to help curb climate change through the reduction of greenhouse gases.
  • The county, City of Bloomington, Town of Normal and Bloomington-Normal Water Reclamation District would each contribute $13,000 annually to the effort for the next three years. McLean County was the first taxing body to approve the plan.
  • Approved plans for design work for two road resurfacing projects: Lexington-LeRoy Road from Illinois Route 9 to Route 165 and Hudson East Road from West Street in Hudson to Pipeline Road (CH 31), The two projects are expected to cost a combined $3.7 million and will be paid for with state gas tax funds and a McLean County match.
  • Approved proclamations to mark May 2023 Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. It also recognized Bradley Ross Jackson, a Normal Community High School student who recently became the youngest ever recipient of the NAACP Image Award and was one of 100 students nationally chosen to participate in the Disney Dreamers Academy.
  • Announced the Illinois Broadband Lab will host a listening session at Illinois State University’s Milner Library from 6-7:30 p.m. next Tuesday to gather feedback on the county’s effort to improve internet access to rural parts of McLean County. The county hosted a rural internet survey earlierthis year. It hopes to secure federal funding improve internet access in rural areas.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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