Key infrastructure makes Mitchell soybean site 'envy' of South Dakota

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Jul. 15—MITCHELL — It's the "envy of southeastern South Dakota."

That's how Drew Peterson, a farmer from the Salem area, a South Dakota House member-elect for District 19, and secretary of the South Dakota Soybean Association, described Mitchell as being the proposed site for the South Dakota Soybean Processors'

planned $500 million crushing plant.

"We would have loved to have a plant like this in Salem but we don't have the infrastructure. You do, and you should be proud of that, so congratulations to Mitchell on being the site," Peterson said during the July 5 Davison County meeting in Mitchell about the plant.

The site of the planned facility is the biggest point of the discussion around the planned project, which would start construction in 2023 and open in 2025 on SDSP's current timeline. For SDSP and its developers, it's the culmination of a long look at hundreds of sites around the state to find the optimal location.

"We looked all over the place and this really was the one where everything you need for a project of this size was located," said Kyle Peters, who is assisting with SDSP's project through A1 Development in Sioux Falls. In the most recent meeting, he called it one of the most impactful projects in South Dakota right now.

For detractors of the plant, the two-lane State Highway 37 is already too busy before any additional truck traffic is added and too close to scores of residential homes that are on the fringe of Mitchell. A

petition brought forward with more than 100 signatures

requested the project be placed "less populated site in the county," and that the plant will cause noise and light pollution, decrease air quality, have a negative effect on wildlife and decrease property values in the area.

But for advocates say not just any piece of land will do the job. The confluence of truck and rail traffic meeting, plus the accessibility to natural gas, electricity and water supply with the close nature to area ag producers is necessary for the project, SDSP CEO Tom Kersting said.

A conditional use permit for the plan was granted on July 12 by the Davison County Commission

.

"To try to find the site that has the railroad on one edge, it's very difficult," Kersting said. "I honestly think after scouring the state, this is one of the best ones that's left out there. It's ideally suited for what we want to do."

Sites for potential ag industrial development in Davison County have been previously studied.

A

2015 report from the District III Planning and Development organization in Yankton

and funded by South Dakota Value Added Agriculture looked at rural development sites around the county, rating them on a scale of "good, better and best." A best-level site was defined as being next to a state or paved county road, have access to three-phase power, have access to rural or city water, have at least 40 acres of developable ground, be adjacent to rail and be at least a half-mile from a shallow aquifer.

Interestingly, in that report, the eight sites in Davison County that were deemed to be "best" for that type of development were in Badger Township, which is the home of Loomis and the current Poet ethanol plant.

However, the report cited that water supply was the most complex and difficult portion of the infrastructure analysis and did not fully consider how area rural water systems would supply water to those large-scale facilities. It said those suppliers didn't provide data on their water supplies, and water service for future projects would need to be considered on a case by case basis.

"For these reasons, the analysis was unable to designate any (commercial) development site as "better" or "best" in Davison County," the report said.

To get a "best" rating, parcels needed a distribution capacity of 285 gallons per minute. On an estimate of using 500,000 gallons of water per day, SDSP would be using 347 gallons per minute. The processor has said it is working with the city of Mitchell and Davison Rural Water System to determine which group will supply its water. Mitchell sources its water from B-Y Water District out of the Missouri River, and likely would have to change its supply agreement to serve SDSP.

Facilities that need natural gas, as SDSP does, essentially need to be within three miles of State Highway 37, Davison County Planning and Zoning Administrator Jeff Bathke said. Otherwise, extending a natural gas line can be cost prohibitive.

"When you consider all that this needs, there are very few places in the county that are going to be able to site something like this," Bathke said. "And this is probably the one site for it."

But a willing seller, Bathke said, changes everything. In this case, SDSP ended up with an option to potentially exercise on a 296-acre piece of property, as it sought land that would be big enough to contain a rail loop for train traffic.

"Everything lines up here and that doesn't always happen," Bathke said.

It doesn't always drop in your lap, either, as Lake Preston farmer Paul Casper put it recently.

As the county commission was signing off on the conditional use permit on July 12, Casper was one of the supporters in attendance. A past president of the South Dakota Soybean Association, he helped create the South Dakota Soybean Processors from an idea in 1993 and led the board of directors for 16 years. He's helped fundraise for processing facilities and ethanol plants across the Midwest.

"These folks are coming here and dropping a $500 million project in your lap," Casper said, further emphasizing the words as he ended the sentence. "Understand what that does for your school district, your roads, water, sewer. All of this will have an impact on your community in a positive way because they want to be a part of your community."