A Texas company is seeking to take over operation of a feedlot near Mead that shares ownership with AltEn, the ethanol company accused by the Nebraska Attorney General of violating numerous state environmental regulations.
On Monday night, the Saunders County Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved a conditional-use permit sought by Champion Feeders of Hereford, Texas.
Mead Cattle Co., which currently manages the feedlot, was organized by Dennis Langley of Shawnee, Kansas, in 2006, according to business filings maintained by the Nebraska Secretary of State.
Langley, a speechwriter for Joe Biden during the president's early days as a U.S. senator representing Delaware, according to his obituary, intended to use the methane in the manure captured at the feedlot to help power the neighboring E3 BioFuels ethanol plant.
The distiller's grains created through the ethanol process would then be fed to the cattle.
The so-called "closed-loop system" was called revolutionary and attracted national attention when the plant opened in 2007, but the explosion of a boiler led the ethanol plant to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
A Kansas City, Missouri, private investment firm — Spectrum Business Ventures Inc. — purchased the ethanol plant's assets in 2010, and Langley, through a new company called AltEn, restarted the plant in 2015.
According to the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy, AltEn began processing seed treated with pesticides into ethanol in 2015 without the state's knowledge.
Residents from Mead began complaining of an odor coming from the plant by 2016, and in 2019, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture told the plant to stop selling the wet distiller's grains byproduct from the ethanol process as a soil additive after samples revealed high concentrations of pesticides.
Langley died in 2017, at which point his stepson, Tanner Shaw, also of Kansas, became president of the limited-liability company that owns Mead Cattle Co., AltEn and Green Disposal, the company that operates a biochar unit on the site, according to state filings.
Jody Weible of Mead asked the Planning and Zoning Commission to deny the conditional-use permit sought by the new owners until samples could be taken to determine if the water at the feedlot was safe for cattle.
"I'm concerned the water has not been tested at the cattle company and they're right next to the ethanol plant," Weible said. "I'm not against the feedlot or the cattle company; I think it should be delayed until we know everything is safe."
In late March, the Department of Environment and Energy sampled water from private water wells of residents who live within a mile of AltEn, the Village of Mead's community well, as well as two wells on property owned by the Nebraska Army National Guard.
On Tuesday, through a spokeswoman, the department confirmed it has not sampled water at the feedlot.
Weible said she also questioned the timing of Champion Feeders' takeover of the feedlot. The application was filed just weeks after the state sued AltEn, seeking monetary damages.
Kevin Buse, the CEO of Champion Feeders, declined to comment on the permit process, but said he does not have a connection to the current owners of Mead Cattle Co. or AltEn.
With the Planning and Zoning Commission's approval, the conditional-use permit will go before the Saunders County Board of Supervisors on April 13.