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Thursday, June 16, 2011 11:05 am

Heirs of FutureGen land oppose project

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Bob Talkemeyer, left, and Jeffery Neimann, right, are two of six heirs to more than 400 acres of land that's been dedicated against their wishes to FutureGen 2.0. Also pictured is Neimann's wife, Betty.
PHOTO BY RACHEL WELLS

The heirs to more than 400 acres of land within a 1,000-acre circle identified as the preferred site for FutureGen 2.0’s carbon storage area say they are opposed to the technology and the use of their land, which is currently controlled by The Farmers State Bank and Trust Company of Jacksonville.

FutureGen 2.0 is the reincarnation of a “clean” coal project originally slated for Mattoon, until in 2008 the U.S. Department of Energy scrapped its plans due to increasing costs. The project was moved to Meredosia, where an oil-fired Ameren power plant would be retrofitted into a coal-fired plant that could capture carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Those emissions, considered a contributor to climate change, would then be piped to an injection well that would send CO2 deep underground.

To bury the CO2, the FutureGen Alliance, a nonprofit coalition of companies including coal king Peabody Energy, must obtain underground rights to about 1,000 acres of land. The Alliance’s preferred site is in Morgan County, just west of where Route 123 meets Beilschmidt Road. Farmers State Bank has already obligated more than 650 acres to the project from trusts set up by the late William Beilschmidt before he died in 1999.

About 250 of those acres belong to perpetual trusts that benefit various charities, but more than 400 acres could go back into Beilschmidt family hands as early as 2015, one year before the alliance expects to begin CO2 injection. Regardless, any contracts the bank signs as managers of the Beilschmidt trust likely would remain in place when Beilschmidt’s heirs gain control of the land.

Jeffery Neimann of Jacksonville is one of Beilschmidt’s six heirs, all of whom he says are opposed to carbon capture and storage on their property. Neimann once worked for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and only recently retired from the Bahrain Petroleum Company as the superintendent of occupational hygiene. He says he’s concerned about environmental damage any CO2 leaks could cause to the land his family intends to continue farming. “You put something into the soil, it’s there forever,” Neimann says.

He also suggests there are more sensible ways to deal with CO2 emissions than burying them underground, where other substances, such as oil from leaking tanks, have proved difficult and expensive to remediate. “We farmers, I guess, the land is forever, we are merely something that occupies time and space for a very short period of time, but the land is always there.”

Terry Denison is president of the Jacksonville Regional Economic Development Corporation, which supports the $1.3 billion FutureGen project for the jobs it’s expected to bring to Morgan County. Farmers State Bank is represented on the JREDC board of directors by its farm manager, Jim Oliver, who, along with the bank’s president and vice president, declined to comment regarding FutureGen and the Beilschmidt trusts.

Denison says he can’t say whether it’s fair that the bank can obligate the Beilschmidt heirs’ land against their wishes. “I’m hoping that in that time period, in the three-year period [before they get the land], they come to a different understanding of this and feel differently about it,” Denison says, adding that otherwise, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree.”

Denison says the FutureGen project will be examined under a microscope and is environmentally safe. Concerning any potential conflict of interest between the bank’s role as trust manager and as a member of the JREDC board of directors, Denison says there is none. “We have a 30-member board of directors. The board only meets quarterly. It’s not like they’re involved in the day-to-day activities of the JREDC.”

Kenneth Humphreys,  FutureGen chief executive officer, says the Beilschmidt heirs’ opposition is “a wrinkle.”

“The purpose of a trust that controls land is to manage that land in the best interest of the resource, and I think that’s clearly what the trust is doing,” Humphreys says, noting that landowners signing over underground space would receive royalties. “To the best of my knowledge it’s the trust as opposed to someone who may be a future beneficiary who ultimately makes the decision.”

While the Morgan County site is the FutureGen Alliance’s preferred site, the organization has also identified two backup sites, in Taylorville and Tuscola. The Morgan County site is closest to the Meredosia plant and would require a shorter pipeline to move the plant’s CO2 emissions to its underground destination. The U.S. Department of Energy is now preparing an environmental impact statement that will include evaluations of all three sites.

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com

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