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County gives nod to tire recyclers
Blizzard Energys proposal stirs lengthy discussion
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It was a small step Monday morning, but it was a step forward for the tire recycling firm Blizzard Energy Inc. in its efforts to open shop at the Great Bend Municipal Airport. The Barton County Commission agreed that the company’s business process was consistent with the county’s Solid Waste Management Plan.  
But, although this was all the commissioners were asked to do Monday, the agenda item led to a broader discussion of how the Santa Maria, Calif., company’s process works and its possible environmental impact. Blizzard Energy officials and representatives were present for the meeting at the Barton County Courthouse.
“This is a very high-tech system,” landfill Manager Mark Witt said.
The Barton County Solid Waste Management Committee had received the application from Blizzard. After meeting and reviewing the proposal, “we determined it was consistent with our plan,” Witt said.
In a nutshell, Blizzard Energy is a tire recycling business. The old tires are shredded and melted in totally enclosed ovens.
The by-products of this process are gas (which will be used to run the facility), oil (which can be refined to off-road diesel fuel and can be sold to area farmers at a discount), carbon black (which is used as filler in rubber products and many modern plastics), and the steel from the steel belts. 
To start with, Blizzard will employ 25-30 people and make a $5 million private investment, said Valentin Alexandrov, the company’s chief executive officer. With millions of tons of old tires in the United States, there is also a chance for expansion so they feel this is an economically viable enterprise.
For now, Blizzard will have four of the complex recycling units at their site. Each can handle five tons of tires per day.
However, even though it was outside the scope of the commission’s decision Monday, there were other concerns. “What’s on our minds are the environmental issues,” commission Chairman Don Cates said.
Witt said the county’s plan is in line with stringent Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Bureau of Waste Management and Environmental Protection Agency regulations. So, by meeting county standards, Blizzard meets state and federal ones as well.
“This technology is not new,” Alexandrov said. “It’s not a miracle.”
In fact, he said, the plant may not even need a KDHE emissions permit. He said the ovens are completely sealed and there are no smoke stacks, and he compared the annual emissions to that expelled by two pickup trucks.
There are similar plants around the world, all of which have been operating for years, Alexandrov said. This plant would be utilizing the most state-of-the-art equipment available.
“This is not snake oil,” said Great Bend attorney Mark Calcara who represents Blizzard. “This is a proven technology permitted by the State of Kansas.”
Despite these assurances, commission member Homer Kruckenberg remained skeptical. He wanted to see more evidence and proof of the concept’s safety.
“This is just another option available to handle our used tires,” Witt said. About the only other option is to bury them is specifically design landfills.
Such a landfill in Ness County will be providing tires for Blizzard. There is also a possibility of a railroad spur feeding the plant.
In addition to tires, the facility could tackle oil sludge and contaminated soil.
In the end, the commission gave Blizzard a nod by a four-to-one vote. Kruckenberg opted to pass, essentially making his a “no” vote.
There is still a long road for Blizzard, Witt said. There are still several KDHE and EPA hoops through which it has to jump.
Great Bend Chamber of Commerce President Jan Peters announced to the Great Bend City Council in November of last year that Blizzard Energy  would begin operations at the Great Bend Municipal Airport this year.
The Great Bend City Council in December authorized Mayor Mike Allison to sign a 10-year lease with Blizzard. Under the agreement, Blizzard will have the option to renew the lease for two 10 year periods.
Included in the deal are two metal buildings south of the damaged World War II-era hanger and a concrete slab that was the site of a structure the city razed years ago.
For this property, Blizzard will pay $1,779 per month starting in May 2013. For four months starting in January, the firm will pay only $890 monthly as it begins operations.
For its part, the city will reimburse Blizzard $57,500 for repairs to the buildings at the site and $75,000 for a prefabricated office/restroom building to be installed. This building will become city property.
 Blizzard officials said the small business climate in California was not conducive to development. They looked at Nevada and Colorado before settling on Barton County.