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It's time for voices to be heard

January 13, 2010
I must confess, I know very little about biomass power plants. Most of what I know has come from the debate that has been going on in Crawford County for the last year. But I know plenty about people, neighbors and families, and I like them much more than power plants.

Since we all first heard about the proposed biomass plant that Liberty Green Renewables wants to build at Milltown, I've been reluctant to voice an opinion on the issue, preferring to stay neutral. But, as the permitting process moves forward, it's obvious that the time has come for not just me but the people of Crawford County to make a decision about the plant and add their voices to the issue.

It's a fairly easy choice for me. I don't live around Milltown, but a lot of my readers do. There's people like the Jenkins family and many, many others who have lived in the area for years — some all their lives — and have been model residents, working, raising their kids, paying their taxes, supporting the schools and churches and being good neighbors — the kind of people who make a community a good place to live.

These are the people who are being told that they may now have to share their community with something that will probably change that community forever, something that will affect the way they live, something that will create an incredible amount of noise, traffic and, as many believe (and experts confirm), a lot of pollution.

They know that it's too late to sell their property, at least for a decent price. Once plans for the plant were announced, property values in the immediate area plunged, I'm sure. If the plant actually happens, they'll probably drop even more. Few people would buy a house that is within sight of smokestacks belching pollution and noise comparable to a jet plane taking off 24 hours a day. And few people would want to move their children to a beautiful, rural area, only to have an incredible amount of truck traffic roaring by seven days a week. And no one would want to send their children to a school in an area where dangerous pollution is being sent into the air. You wouldn't, I wouldn't and probably the owners of the power plant wouldn't either.

As much as Crawford County needs businesses to locate there, they only need businesses that will have a positive impact on the communities. And this one probably doesn't meet those qualities. The county needs jobs, and this business will hire very few from this area. The county needs tax money, but not at the expense of its residents' health and properties.

New small businesses — Haps Cookhouse, J and L Automotive, Pilot, Subway, Big Al's Pizzaria, the truck wash at Carefree and others — may not hire a lot of workers, but every job counts. And these businesses, which are doing quite well, are a positive part of the county, most using local people who spend their paychecks locally and they're not polluting our land, rivers or endangering children's health. Instead of a larger business that claims to use 15 or 20 people, let's go with five more small businesses that use two or three people. The job outcome will be the same and will focus on local people without a negative impact. Crawford County has a good economic development program, and more businesses will come down the road in the future.

Two guys on white steeds waving a few bucks around shouldn't be able to ride into a county and screw up the lives of scores of citizens, just to make a huge profit. And the people of Crawford County should stop it. Even if you live in the other end of the county — Taswell, Eckerty, Leavenworth, Sulphur and English — don't forget, it could easily happen to you, as well. Wouldn't you expect your fellow Crawford Countians to support you? And wouldn't you be upset if they turned their backs on you? Don't forget about your Milltown neighbors; someday they won't forget about you.

But we know why they (LGR) are there: the lack of zoning. This has been a huge mistake for the county. A lack of zoning used to be something that appealed to a lot of people, but, these days, it just puts the county at risk of being exploited by those who couldn't care less about the people or the long-term impact of their greed. More than likely, they'll make their money, ruin the environment around the small town of Milltown and the beautiful Blue River, then move on to other areas they can exploit and repeat the process. This is not about "green" or renewable energy; this is about money. I don't care if the LGR people get rich or not, but I do care about those who have always been our readers and will be there for many, many years to come. They deserve all the support we can give them. They're good neighbors.

I don't know much about power plants, but I know a lot about good neighbors.

IDEM will host a public meeting at the Crawford County 4-H Community Park south of Marengo along S.R. 66 tonight (Wednesday) at 5:30. IDEM staff will provide information about the draft LGR air permit and will answer questions from the public.

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