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Biomass opponents try for ordinance

Commissioners seek legal guidance

September 30, 2009
The Crawford County Board of Commissioners didn't approve an ordinance presented to it by a new citizen group opposing the construction of a biomass plant near Milltown Thursday night, but it did vote to possibly look into whether it could do so.

The ordinance, said Mark Woods, co-chair of the Concerned Citizens of Crawford County, on behalf of the newly formed North Milltown Landowners Asso-ciation, would require the operator of any incinerator or combustion chamber that burns more than five tons of wood, wood products, vegetative waste or biomass per day to obtain a permit from the commissioners.

It further would prohibit such plants from being located within three miles of schools, preschools, nursing homes and hospitals, and failure to obey the ordinance would result in a fine of up to $12,500 per day.

Woods, who said the Concerned Citizens also support the ordinance, said the landowners group hired attorney Michael Gillen-water of Jeffersonville to write the ordinance because of concerns of dioxin, a carcinogen produced by such plants that can cause a multitude of diseases, some leading to death, in humans, especially children and the elderly.

"He's assuring us there's nothing prohibiting this," Woods told the commissioners.

He said other local governments, and even the state of Delaware, have put in similar measures.

"You do have this incredible power to protect the safety, health and welfare of these citizens," Woods said.

Such an ordinance effectively would prevent Liberty Green Renewables LLC from constructing a 28-megawatt woody biomass-to-electricity plant northwest of the intersection of state roads 64 and 66 north, since it is located within about a mile of Milltown Elementary School.

The Concerned Citizens, who reported they now have 1,800 signatures on a petition against the plant and votes of opposition from the Big Blue River of the Ohio Landowners Association and the Blue River Commission, have been fighting the plant and, in particular, its location since shortly after LGR announced last December plans to build.

They have attended almost every meeting of the commissioners and county council, as well as others, since then, presenting the findings of their research and offering suggestions on ways the county, which doesn't have zoning laws, can prevent its construction. It first floated the idea of a health-and-safety ordinance in the spring.

The commissioners, un-der the advice of their attorney, have been careful not to make many public statements, including whether they would support a property tax abatement if requested by LGR. That has led some of the Concerned Citizens to question the commissioners' engagement in the issue.

"Have you all looked at the land application permit?" Cara Beth Jones, Woods' co-chair, asked the commissioners.

Board of Commissioners President Larry Bye, whose district includes the site of the proposed plant, told Jones that he has looked at it but hasn't studied it in detail.

Still, a couple of other Concerned Citizens asked the commissioners the same question again later in the meeting.

Jones said the application raises several questions about LGR's discharge plans, including the use of switchgrass, which is invasive and can be fatal to horses, and whether pipes will be buried deep enough in the ground not to freeze.

Tom Doddridge, another member of the group, asked about the status of a federal environmental impact study that the commissioners voted 3-0 in April to request.

"It's been six months," he said. "It's time for the county to aggressively pursue" with the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that a study be conducted.

Rodney Jenkins, another member of the group who lives within sight of the location of the proposed plant, said the commissioners need to be more proactive.

"They are moving along on all this stuff, and I think you all need to be asking some questions," he said.

Following a recess, the commissioners moved on to other items.

Later in the meeting, however, they returned to the matter when District 3 Commissioner Jim Schultz motioned to have their attorney contact the legal firm Barnes & Thornburg LLP in Indianapolis to get a price quote on obtaining advice as to the commissioners' authority regarding such an ordinance and requiring a federal environmental impact study.

District 2 Commissioner Randy Gilmore seconded the motion, and Bye made the vote 3-0.

In other matters, the commissioners:

•Voted, 3-0, to renew the interlocal agreement with Harrison County that provides Crawford County with riverboat gaming revenue. The agreement, already approved by Harrison County, is for one year and includes the same terms as the previous agreement.

•Were notified by the project engineer that the County Bridge No. 45 rehabilitation project at Alton should be completed about the first week in November.

•Voted, 3-0, to deny Verizon's request for payment for lines and equipment damaged by county highway department workers. The county maintains that Verizon years ago agreed to bury the lines to a minimum depth but has failed to do so, and, therefore, the county is not at fault.

•Announced they will open the 2010 annual supply bids at their regular meeting on Dec. 29. Bids will be due at 8 a.m. that day and will be opened at 9, when the regular meeting begins. A closed executive session will be held at 8 a.m.

The commissioners also announced that their next two regular monthly meetings will be Oct. 29 and Nov. 24. The executive sessions will be at 5 p.m. followed by the public meetings at 6:30.

All of the meetings will be held at the Crawford County Judicial Complex in English.

•Opened proposals for preliminary engineering services for the County Bridge No. 129 (the curved bridge at Milltown) project. The proposals were taken under advisement.

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