Opposition mounts to power plant
January 28, 2009
Opposition to the new biomass power plant proposed for the Milltown area came out in force at a meeting Tuesday night, Jan. 20, questioning several aspects of the planned facility.
The meeting, held at the Blue River Café in Milltown, brought out a standing-room-only crowd of about 70 Milltown-area residents who were not pleased with the lack of information offered by the company, Liberty Green Renewables LLC, which plans to build the plant, or from local officials whom, they claim, "have already made up their minds" on the project before even considering the concerns of local residents.
"I'm certainly not opposed to new businesses coming to the county," said Mark Woods, who, together with his wife, Debbie, owns Blue River Café "but that doesn't mean that Milltown is the correct site for this plant."
That was the opinion of most of those attending the meeting. Some questioned why the plant couldn't be built at the industrial park near Carefree where fewer people live, and it would put less traffic on local roads because Interstate 64 is right beside the industrial park. But the discussion soon centered around the possibility of pollution to the area's water and air.
"We're living in kind of a fishbowl here in Milltown," Cara Jones said. "Any pollution created here will probably stay here. We have a good life here — a good place to live. We don't want that taken away."
One man in the group talked about his concerns with the plant, including possible ash ponds.
"The Blue River is one of the most pristine rivers in this country," he said. "We know what just happened in Tennessee when a toxic coal ash pond ruptured, polluting hundreds of acres and a nearby river. All power plants have ash ponds. … It's not easy to keep these things safe. There's a lot of caves in the area and a spill like they had in Tennessee would enter our groundwater system."
Another person added that he had been building ponds for years and, with as many sinkholes as there are in the area, it's hard to get a pond to hold water; it drains into the ground.
"And the area where the plant will be built has sinkholes everywhere," he said. "The ash pond they will build won't be made of concrete, but earth. And a severe rain could cause the ash to run over the top."
The general mood of the gathering, which took on the name Concerned Citizens of Crawford County, was one of disappointment at the lack of information offered by Liberty Green and local officials about the plant, the emissions from burning, water discharge and traffic. Some thought that there would be questionable fuels burned at the site, including slabs, sawdust, two-by-fours, construction materials, solid waste and even diapers and blankets from hospitals.
"Having them burn this kind of trash and construction debris is one of our biggest fears," Jones said. "They plan to keep 30 days worth of fuel on site. If they use up all they have, we're afraid they'll burn whatever they can get."
"Some of the materials will release toxic gas when burned," Mark Woods added. "I've been researching other biomass plants. Local communities, both counties and towns can impose limits on pollution. Local property owners can have an impact."
"Zoning can be used to control an operation like this one," Ralph Seacat said. "This plant idea came at about the same time as an idea for zoning was being kicked around. We have to weigh the positive and negative. One million in taxes sounds good, but a community's good health is even more important."
One question that came up several times during the meeting was, "Why Crawford County?"
"Companies wanting to build plants often target communities that are poor and unorganized," one Milltown resident said. "And it's hard to oppose jobs. But this plant could come at a cost of jobs already here, like those who make their living from the Blue River and tourists."
Some at the meeting voiced concern that once the company gets permits and begins operations, it will reapply for more permits to burn items like used tires and even landfill waste. And some were concerned about property values around where the plant will be built.
"Property values are not the best in Crawford County already," one person said.
Some were concerned about possible smoke from the plant being visible and that the plant would be located within a mile from a school.
"This plant will run seven days a week, 24 hours a day," one resident said. "They told us there would be a little sulfur smell, but we'd get used to it."
Some talked about greenhouse gases, dioxins, PCBs and similar chemicals, and toxic metals like mercury and chromiums.
The meeting revealed more concern than anger, but one thing was obvious, the group wanted more information than Liberty Green has so far made available. That may change at tomorrow's (Thursday) county commissioners' meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the Crawford County Judicial Complex at English, where company representatives have promised to provide an informational presentation and answer questions from residents about the plant.
"I want the people to have their concerns addressed," Commissioner Larry Bye said. "I have some questions about the plant myself. But we have to separate fact from fiction. I'm not in favor of anything that will damage the environment. But, based on today's tax rates, this plant could produce $2 million a year in taxes for the county. Anything with the potential for that much income, you have to take a serious look at it. It could mean a significant increase in our tax base, which could lower property taxes. The meeting on the 29th is to facilitate a question-and-answer session, to address the community's concerns and allow Liberty Green an opportunity to respond to those concerns.
"At the meeting, Liberty Green will make a 10-to-15-minute presentation, then we will open it up for questions. The meeting will be conducted in a civil and organized manner. There will be a sign-in sheet for anyone wanting to speak, and to speak, you'll have to come forward and state your name. No one will be recognized from the floor. The ground rules will be laid out before the meeting, and we'll expect the people to be courteous and respectful to everyone. The commissioners have not made any decisions on this plant. And there will be no vote or decision at the meeting."