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County business growth slow but housing OK

By Kayla Kloos

Sun Tribune

Stevens County Economic Improvement Commission Executive Director Michael Haynes reported slow growth overall for area businesses in the third quarter of 2008, but he said there was no loss of value in Stevens County's housing market.

Haynes presented his report to the Stevens County Board of Commissioners at its meeting Tuesday.

Haynes also reported that the Morris Industrial Park is currently full, but that there are 40 to 60 acres available next to the zoned park for future expansion.

Haynes also talked about the Stevens County Corn Stalk Gasification Plant project. The plant would be a demonstration plant, the first of its kind in the country.

The proposed project would convert corn stalks or similar material to natural gas and transmit the gas to customers through the exisiting natural gas pipeline system. The business plan of the project is owned by five local farmers.

One concern of the project is how the removal of corn stover will affect the soil for future crops and that studies are being done to gather more information on this issue, he said.

It's estimated that farmers would need to harvest two tons per acre from 70,000 acres to meet the plant's needs to produce over 4000 decatherms of natural gas per day. The plant is estimated to cost $75 million and would employ 35 to 50 engineers full time. Haynes believes there is a 50 percent chance that the plant will be built.

In other county business:

• The board discussed a plan to merge with Pope and Douglas counties to create a five-county system. Stevens County currently is part of Stevens-Traverse-Grant Public Health.

Representatives from the five counties met on Friday for preliminary discussions on a merger.

The county officials who attended last week's meeting thought it was fruitful and positive. The board is waiting to hear responses from both Pope and Douglas counties within the next week about how the plan is received by commissioners and other officials.

• The facilities and building project committee will travel to Wilken County to visit its new jail. The visit is expected to allow the committee to collect advice and ideas for Stevens County's jail project.

A final schematic design and cost speculations will be presented at the Nov. 4 county board meeting.

• Stevens County Environmental Services Director Bill Kleindl is also projected to present the contract with the Pope/Douglas Waste facility for discussion at the Nov. 4 meeting.