Questions linger about biomass plant
February 18, 2009
The monthly meeting of the Milltown Town Council on Monday evening, Feb. 9, turned out to be a crowded gathering of concerned residents wanting answers about a biomass plant planned northwest of town.
The plant, proposed by Liberty Green Renewables LLC, has come under fire from residents, not necessarily because of what the company has done, but because of the lack of communication and commitment from LGR officials.
Two of the company's partners, Larry Ott and Terry Naulty, both of Harrison County, made a presentation and answered questions.
Naulty said LGR understands the concerns of the residents and is trying to ease the tension and "set the record straight on misinformation."
"We've done a lot of expensive work, looking at sites," Naulty said. "We chose the site we bought after one year of looking. The site here has a lot of advantages. There are great biomass resources. There's good highway access. It's close to a metro area and transmission lines for Duke Energy. There's good tax credits for building here due to the low-income levels of Crawford County, and reasonable water supplies and discharge capabilities."
Naulty added water emissions from the 28-megawatt plant, a bubbling fluidized bed reactor, would be reused as much as possible.
"The water that is dumped will have no contact with fuel for the plant," he said. "The excess will be captured in a pond on the site. The ash, which is high in calcium, will be reused, and the excess will be hauled off-site to a landfill."
He added there would be no smell from the plant, that it would have a small carbon footprint and there would be a small emissions output.
"The plant will occupy less than 30 acres," Naulty said, "and that's including ponds and storage. The building itself will be about three acres. There should be around 60 to 65 full-time jobs. And these will be 30-year — life-of-plant — jobs."
Naulty mentioned there would be ample time for public input during the permit process.
But some questions asked during the meeting went unanswered.
"Where will the wastewater go?" Cara Beth Jones asked. "Will it go in Blue River?"
"We haven't decided," was the answer.
"I've dealt in wood waste," Butch Ragland said. "It's really hard to control what goes into it. It's difficult to get clean waste. Some wood products have nails, and it's hard to remove all of them, but when burned, they will generate compounds. Some of your statement is inconsistent with my experience."
"Will we get answers before the ball rolls down the hill?" another person asked.
"When we apply for permits," Naulty answered.
When one person asked about the amount of light and noise the plant will generate, Ott responded that little light will be needed and noise will be limited to the truck traffic and occasional sound of a boiler pressure release valve.
When asked about the possibility of using other materials for fuel, Ott responded that any modification in fuel would have to go through a permit process and a company fuel manager would select fuels for the plant.
"And what will be the mercury level?" a resident asked.
"We don't know," Ott replied.
"And will you hire Crawford County people for those jobs?"
"We'll have to see who applies," was the response.
Mark Woods, a Milltown resident and owner of Blue River Café, said he believes in promoting new business but not at the expense of existing businesses.
"I've never seen sulfur that didn't smell," he said. "And can you guarantee in writing there will be no ash pond break here like they had in Tennessee? These plants do cause air pollution, and you will not be able to remove 100 percent of pollutants. Dioxin is a man-made substance. There are no known safe levels. If released, it will show up in dairy cattle, meat and even the breast milk of mothers.
"And 300 of these (biomass) plants have been defeated in this country since 1985. ... In places like Vermont and Massachusetts, they try to locate the plants in little towns by rivers, and many of them have been kept out. I refuse to allow anyone to come in and poison this community."
Paul Walerczak, a father of five who lives near the proposed site, talked about his daughter's asthma.
"The air won't be the same," he said. "If you put a plant here, the air will be different. There's no good wind currents here; pollution will stay close to the ground. And the county commissioners, you guys owe it to us to ask the right questions."
"I don't know if I'm for this plant or against," Tom Doddridge, another Milltown resident, said. "I'm concerned about the process. Each (county) agency says they don't have anything to do with it. I would ask them to say no until the company provides models for the politicians, modeled on other plants. If they believe they can come here and fly under the radar, then they are not a good business model."
"This is not the end of the process," District 1 Commissioner Larry Bye said. "This is the beginning of the process. INDOT will tell them what is acceptable. No one is trying to sneak anything in."
"If this is the beginning," Doddridge added, "then it's time to talk to the people."