Union County residents vote on oil refineryby Cara Hetland, Minnesota Public Radio
There are plans in place for the first new U.S. oil refinery 30 years. Rural Union County, South Dakota, is one of a handful of possible sites for the $10 billion project. Texas-based Hyperion is the company behind the proposal.
Union County commissioners recently approved a rezoning plan that could pave the way for the refinery. The first test of public sentiment is a vote June 3rd on that rezoning.
Union County, S.D. — You can tell how Union County residents feel about the Hyperion Energy Center from their front yards. Signs for and against the refinery dot the lawns of Elk Point.
For Ed Cable, it's about keeping the quality life he enjoys just outside the window of his farm house.
"It's a blend of urban and rural areas... close enough to metropolitan Sioux City and Sioux Falls for all of the cultural and shopping you would want, yet private enough that I seldom lock doors or seldom lock equipment and can look out my front window and have no clothes on and no one would complain," Cable says with a smile.
Union County, at the southeastern tip of South Dakota, is where the Big Sioux and the Missouri Rivers meet.
Like Ed Cable, Dennis Hultgren knows this land well.
Hultgren was born and raised on the same farm he's lived on for 78 years. But he sees Union County as a place where farms are getting larger and towns are drying up.
"The small towns, I don't care which one you go in, but when I was a boy there was three or four restaurants in every town, clothing stores and there was all kinds of enterprises going on," he says. "In these small towns the business districts are very small now because people travel to other places."
Hultgren supports the Hyperion oil refinery even though his farm would be about 8 miles from the proposed site.
He sees it as opportunity knocking. Hultgren has ten adult grandchildren and not one stayed in South Dakota.
"I think this is a great opportunity that will impact the entire area," he explains. "Not just jobs with Hyperion project, but an immense growth in other related industries it'll impact us a great deal and I'm in favor of it 100 percent."
The proposed $10 billion oil refinery would produce 400,000 barrels of fuel a day.
Hyperion officials say the project is needed to keep up with the rising demand and cost of fuel. They promise the most state of the art facility and technologies available.
It'll take five years and 10,000 people to build the massive refinery. Once it's completed 1,800 people would work there. Officials estimate the economic impact at about $14 billion each year.
But for opponent Ed Cable the devil is in the details.
"If this truly is the second largest private development project in the United States, it should take months if not years to properly plan and permit," Cable says.
It's only taken about six months for Hyperion to get rezoning approval from Union County.
Ed Cable is a development project manager by trade and he says there are costs that weren't addressed during the rezoning hearings.
"In this case, there's going to be an immediate need to upgrade state county and township roads," he says. "Who would pay for those costs? Who would pay for the increased maintenance costs? Who would pay for the temporary issues of housing and socioeconomic needs of construction workers?"
Cable and others filed a lawsuit challenging the rezoning process. But those who support the project gathered enough signatures to put the rezoning issue to a public vote.
Officials from Hyperion say if the voters of the county don't want the project this is their opportunity to say so. If the vote goes against the refinery, Hyperion will focus on sites in other states.
Supporter Dennis Hultgren says it's easier to be against a project like this than for it but he says in the end the silent supporters will likely prevail in the ballot box.
"But you see, they don't dare come out in a small town," he explains. "Everybody knows everybody and they don't want to put a big sign in front of their house. But when it comes to vote they're going to vote for it because they know it stimulates business and it's good for everybody."
Voters in Union County cast their ballot on the issue June 3rd.
- Morning Edition, 05/30/2008, 7:50 a.m.