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Anti-biomass effort continues

Opposition group takes case to county council

March 18, 2009
Although not as numerous as at last month's county commissioners' meeting, a group of citizens opposed to a proposed biomass power plant north of Milltown and within about a half-mile of Blue River were filled with just as much passion when making their case to the Crawford County Council last Tuesday evening at the judicial complex at English.

The group, which calls itself the Concerned Citizens of Crawford County, represented by its leadership — co-chairs Cara Jones and Mark Woods — and a handful of others, presented their worries that the plant would affect the region's air and water supply, drive down property values and weaken the area's tourism industry and asked the council to deny any request for a tax abatement.

Jones gave the council information about a plant that, when proposed, was similar in specifications to the 28-megawatt woody biomass-to-electricity plant Liber-ty Green Renewables Inc. is wanting to build just northwest of the intersection of state roads 64 and 66 in eastern Crawford County.

That plant ended up becoming a 50-megawatt facility, she said, explaining she is worried the same will be true of the LGR plant. Jones also noted other facilities began using wood as fuel but later switched to another fuel source.

Handing out maps of the karst system in that area, she pointed to specific caves to show how easily the underground water table could be penetrated.

"So, as you can see, those caves are pretty complex," she said. "They're completely around the property."

LGR officials last month indicated they haven't decided where water discharged from the plant — they estimate the amount to be 120 gallons per minute (172,800 gallons every 24 hours) — would go. However, they said options being considered include Blue River, Whiskey Run Creek and sinkholes.

Noting that the karst system extends southwest to Leavenworth, the site of water utility wells, Jones said she is fearful the area's water supply could become contaminated as it did in another community with a biomass plant.

"So, what we're all worried about is not only the river, but what this can do to our ... drinking water," she said.

Woods added he also is concerned that the 30-day supply of wood chips LGR plans on keeping at the site, a pile the citizens group has calculated to be that of two football fields 16 feet deep, could get wet, form formaldehyde through fermentation and leak into the water supply.

He also responded to LGR's claim at the commissioners' meeting that the plant would produce about the same amount of highly toxic dioxin emissions as residential wood stoves, saying that would only be true if each person in Milltown had 50 wood stoves and the emissions came out of a single chimney.

"These comparisons are glib and they come off the tongue easily," but should be considered carefully, he said.

Woods also said LGR's argument that the biomass plant would produce only one-tenth the amount of pollution of a coal plant is a red herring.

"I don't see the need for one-tenth the pollution of a coal plant near the Blue River," he said.

Woods, who with his wife, Debbie, owns Blue River Café in Milltown, said the number of jobs created by the plant, which still isn't certain as LGR officials have given varying numbers, could be offset by even a small drop in the number of tourists to the town because of the plant.

"There are 50 jobs there now that rely on tourism," he said, explaining even a 10-percent drop in customers would be "enough to close all of our businesses."

So far, more than 600 people have signed a petition in opposition of the plant, and the Concerned Citizens group has been represented at various meetings, including that of the Milltown Town Council and area water companies.

Larry Bye, president of the board of county commissioners and who was in attendance at the council's meeting, said he and Jerry Brewer, president of the council, visited an independent environmental engineering firm following the last commissioners' meeting to seek answers.

"I had more questions raised than I got answers," Bye said.

Marcus Burgher IV, attorney for the council and several other boards the group has approached, said none of the boards can take action — in the council's case, denying a tax abatement — until LGR asks for something, which it hasn't done.

However, that didn't stop Councilman Bill Breeding from saying how he would vote.

"I'm from Milltown, and I'll vote against it," he said.

Burgher continued by noting residents can be assured the council, if it is asked for a tax abatement, will ask the appropriate questions. He said the tax abatement process doesn't have to be public, but has said it intends to keep the process open and conduct a public hearing.

Bye added that if LGR decides it can build the plant without a tax abatement and is successful in getting the environmental permits from the state, there isn't much the county can do since it doesn't have land-use management regulations.

However, based on an earlier comment by LGR partner Larry Ott, it seems unlikely the company would move forward without a tax abatement.

"Without the abatements, our project likely would not be viable in Crawford County," he said at a commissioners' meeting in December.

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