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Anti-biomass group asks council for letter

April 22, 2009
More than a dozen of the residents leading an effort against a proposed 28-megawatt woody biomass-to-electricity plant near Milltown not only again asked the Crawford County Council last Tuesday night to deny any tax abatement requests but to also write a letter to state and federal officials opposing the location.

"I would like to ask you all to send a letter to the governor and (Ninth District Rep.) Baron Hill and request no state or federal help, shut (down) the federal and state grants," Glenn Crecelius said. "These rascals don't need no help."

A former Crawford County commissioner, Crecelius said he understands the county could use the property tax revenue but not at the price it will cost.

"Tell them no. That's all I say. Just tell them no, folks," he told the council, meeting at the Crawford County Judicial Complex at English.

Mark Woods, co-chairman of the Concerned Citizens of Crawford County, said he believes such a letter from the council, as well as the county commissioners and the Milltown Town Council, both of whom have also been approached, along with a petition signed by more than 860 people, would send a clear message that the site is the wrong location for such a facility.

Cara Beth Jones, the group's other co-chairman, said the site — the northwest corner of the intersection of state roads 64 and 66 North — is a poor location, in part, because of the dangers the plant could impose on the area's water supply.

Pointing to several articles warning of possible water shortages in the southern part of the state, Jones said the group is concerned about the approximately 480,000 gallons of water developer Liberty Green Renewables LLC has indicated the plant would use daily. She added the group is also concerned about the 172,000 gallons of water LGR has said would be discharged daily, with possible sites being either Blue River, Whiskey Run Creek or area sinkholes.

Jones said that, according to the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the state "has experienced severe droughts in 1940, '60 and '80, and the question isn't when we will have a drought but when, and based on the pattern over 60 years, it appears it may be sooner than later."

Blue River, Woods said, is the state's second cleanest river with "outstanding ecological importance," according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources' Division of Water. There are 185 endangered species whose topographies depend on Blue River, he said.

Woods said suggestion that discharge from the biomass plant into Blue River wouldn't be significant since existing municipal sewage systems discharge into the river north of Milltown is disingenuous.

He said the group includes a biologist who has tested the water below the dam at Milltown, and the results back up the Division of Water's classification.

"Probably the most important is this, a biological monitoring — it's called a pollution index — of the Blue River. Seventeen to 23 is good, above 23 is excellent; the Blue River got a 37," he said. "So, right now, we have excellent river pollution ratings. That lets you know what you're thinking about protecting."

Besides expressing environmental worries, Tom Doddridge said he is concerned about how much research has been done by county officials regarding the proposed plant and its developer.

"I've asked for an open records request with the Economic Redevelopment Commission," he said. "When I did, all I received was a one-page document that had the minutes from Dec. 9 that said, after a little bit of discussion, they were going to recommend a tax abatement for LGR.

"If my documents request was honored, there was nothing to come before the Redevelopment Commission in the way of a background (check) of these people, in the way of what they were proposing at that point," Doddridge continued.

"I'm concerned that somehow this got started, that LGR recorded their deed (to the site it purchased) in this courthouse on the day that that motion was made. I find that rather interesting."

He added that economic development officials from other counties have told him that it is standard to check backgrounds, financial statements and business history.

"If my records request was honored accurately and by law, none of that has been done to this point," Doddridge said.

Instead of considering a tax abatement (LGR has not formally requested one), the county, he said, should consider doing the opposite: imposing a tax on LGR's profits.

Councilman Joey Robinson cautioned against taking such action, saying other businesses could be affected in the future. However, he did join Bill Breeding, who announced his intentions at last month's meeting, to become the second county council member to say he would vote against a tax abatement.

"I'm looking at it as strictly a financial standpoint, that the county needs the money worse than they need a break," he said, explaining he still hasn't decided whether the biomass plant would be good or bad for the county.

Jerry Brewer, president of the county council, didn't say for certain how he would vote, but did say he is concerned, adding that he is puzzled by some of LGR's actions. He said the company has "kind of shot themselves in the foot a little bit" regarding a possible tax abatement because that is an incentive a community uses to attract a business.

"They've done said they're coming so why don't we want to collect the taxes, if they come on their own?" Brewer asked.

He said that he hasn't seen anything so far financially that would warrant a tax abatement, adding that LGR, which has made a presentation at a commissioners' meeting, has yet to come before the council, and he is worried about the proposed site.

However, Brewer said, he is hesitant about writing a letter completely against the plant altogether. If LGR does build the facility without a tax abatement, the county may need financial assistance from the federal and state governments on associated projects, like road improvements, he said.

"I don't want to slam the door," Brewer said. "After it's done, we may need help with other projects.

"But as far a tax abatement they have got a hard sell to show me financially that this is a good deal for the county."

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