Ripley Co. Commissioners Schedule Vote On "Whiskey Fungus" Ordinance

In response to a massive whiskey barrel house in Sunman, the proposed update to the county zoning code will require future brewing, distilling, and aging operations to get county or town approval first.

Ripley County Commissioners. File photo.

(Ripley County, Ind.) – Ripley County Commissioners are updating the county’s zoning code in response to a massive whiskey barrel house about to set up in Sunman.

Lawrenceburg distillery owner MGPI of Indiana purchased the former Deufol plant on Meridian Street in Sunman last year. The company plans to store up to 320,000 whiskey barrels across two warehouses there as the spirits age before being bottled for sale.

But citizens in Sunman and the surrounding area are up in arms over the barrel house operation. In Lawrenceburg and Greendale where the spirits are produced, an unsightly black fungus grows on homes, vehicles, trees, and other objects in the distillery’s vicinity. Sunman folks don’t want that same problem coming to their town.

The fungus, Baudoinia compniacensis, grows near barrel houses around the world. It thrives on the so-called “angel’s share” of the ethanol which evaporates from the wood barrels as the whiskey ages. The ethanol vapors can escape the barrel house, leading to the growth of “whiskey fungus” on neighboring properties.

One of those opposed to the barrel house operation is Ripley County Commissioner Mark Horstman, a Sunman area resident. He asked the county attorney in February to draft an ordinance which would put create new restrictions for brewing and distilling operations in the county.

That ordinance is now ready for final approval.

"With the backlash that was going on with MGP in Sunman was that a lot of people were feeling like they didn't know about it or have any say in who was coming to their community. That's what this county ordinance will address," explains Horstman.

County commissioners have scheduled a meeting for 8:45 a.m. on Monday, May 20 to vote on the zoning code update which will give the county and its towns the future ability to prevent fungus-producing barrel houses – even if it is too late to apply to MPGI’s barrel house in Sunman.

The proposed revision to the zoning code states, in part, that the county would have to grant a special exception to businesses or individuals wanting to “manufacture of malt products, brewing, distillation of liquid and spirits, aging/maturation, packaging, storage or warehousing of distilled alcohol/ethanol that may result in Volatile Organic Compounds emissions or alcohol/ethanol emissions capable of forming Baudoinia compniacensis.”

The code update would require an entity seeking a special exception to submit a development plan identifying affected residential zones, as well as a mitigation plan for addressing the effects of the VOCs.

Applicants would also have to comply with all state and federal air and water quality regulations and permitting.

Existing aging facilities, including MGPI’s new operation in Sunman, would be grandfathered in under the old zoning code. However, if MGPI ever wishes to house more than the 320,000-barrel capacity in its air permit, it would have to adhere to the new zoning ordinance.

Towns will have to vote to adopt the new zoning ordinance, too, according to Horstman. It will be up to towns to enforce zoning matters in their jurisdictions.

"We don't want to keep businesses from coming to Ripley County, but at the end of the day we need to know who they are and what they are going to do to protect the citizens to the best of our ability. That is what we are trying to accomplish here," says Horstman. 

Over the citizen objections, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management last month granted a new source construction and minor source operating permit to MGPI of Indiana. Agency officials stated that ethanol is not classified as a hazardous air pollutant on the list of contaminants it is required to regulate.

The permit, good for five years, allows the company to begin operating a barrel house immediately.

Some citizens are appealing IDEM’s decision. All appeals to IDEM decisions on air permits go to the Indiana Office of Environmental Adjudication. A prehearing conference on the matter was scheduled for Wednesday, May 15.

RELATED STORIES:

Despite Citizen Uproar, IDEM Grants Air Permit For Sunman Barrel House

Thursday's Sunman Town Council Meeting At Sunman Elementary School

IDEM Meeting Doesn't Leave Much Doubt About Likelihood Of Sunman Whiskey Barrel House Permit

Ripley County Commissioners Drafting Ordinance To Combat Whiskey Fungus

Sunman Citizens Display Barrel House Opposition To Defensive Town Council

IDEM Grants Public Meeting On Sunman Whiskey Barrel House Operation

Citizens Want Public Hearing On Whiskey Barrel Storage In Sunman

Whiskey Barrels Will Fill Former Deufol Plant In Sunman

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