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Our View: No secrets, please

News that Stora Enso and representatives of the city of Duluth and SVCNDA are talking about bringing an ethanol plant to West Duluth inspires mixed reactions.

News that Stora Enso and representatives of the city of Duluth and SVCNDA are talking about bringing an ethanol plant to West Duluth inspires mixed reactions.

An ethanol plant isn't -- in itself -- a bad thing. More jobs, cutting edge technology, doing our thing to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil ... it's all good.

In fact, it's great that such an up-and-coming industry is looking at Duluth.

Even better is the fact that Agra -- the Wisconsin-based company contemplating building an ethanol plant here -- and Stora Enso are exploring ways the two facilities could use byproducts generated by the other, a synergy the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's ethanol sector manager says is unique in Minnesota.

On the other hand, the attitude of some of the local officials doing the talking is a little disturbing, because it seemed folks in the know wanted the whole idea to remain secret until they were ready to present residents with a completed deal.

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Rumors about an ethanol plant had been flying around Duluth since before Christmas -- when said discussions took place -- but the story didn't see the light of day until the first week in April because no one wanted to talk.

A call from the Budgeteer to city staff in April did get confirmation that discussions had taken place -- however, added to that confirmation was a sharp verbal footnote that other news-gathering organizations in the area had "respected" their wishes not to go public with news of the talks until there was something more concrete to announce. An earlier call to the SVCNDA office was not returned at all.

Haven't officials learned that being open and transparent -- particularly if you're talking about building a large ethanol plant smack in the middle of Duluth -- is the best way to keep everyone happy?

What is the benefit of keeping such discussions under wraps?

Then there's the fact that building a corn-based ethanol plant next to a pulp mill seems a little short-sighted, when most experts agree cellulosic ethanol -- created from materials like switch grass and wood residue -- is likely the future of ethanol. Besides, who wants to be (partly) to blame for a Mexican rebellion over the price of corn tortillas?

Knowing that Stora Enso is partnering with Neste Oil in Finland to develop technology for producing new-generation biofuels from wood residues would seem to indicate that at least one party must be thinking beyond corn.

All we ask is that government and business officials move thoughtfully, communicate with the public and ensure that any new facility will make Duluth an even better place to live.

It's a pretty tall order, but deciding to add an ethanol plant to the skyline around here is a something that needs to happen under the harsh light of public debate, not in the privacy of a boardroom, or even a meeting room in a West Duluth restaurant.

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