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IDEM: Rules, not emotion, guide decision

Crowd of about 200 — mostly opponents — attend informational meeting

January 20, 2010
Indiana Department of Environmental Management officials, during a public meeting last Wednesday night, told the crowd of about 200 people — the majority of whom, judging by their reaction to various comments, were against the proposed biomass power plant to be built near Milltown — that while they sympathize with pleas to halt construction, they must follow prescribed guidelines when considering an application for an air permit.

The more than four-hour meeting, at the Crawford County 4-H Community Park near Marengo, featured audience members taking turns, in five-minute segments, addressing the three IDEM officials. Several people made multiple trips through the line to ask about specifics in the air permit application filed by Liberty Green Renewables LLC, including why the plant is being considered a minor, instead of major, source of pollution despite LGR indicating it will just be shy of the emission threshold for one of the offending pollutants.

Matt Stuckey, branch chief for IDEM’s Office of Air Quality/Permits Branch, left, makes a point during last Wednesday’s public meeting at the Crawford County 4-H Community Park while IDEM’s Trip Sinha listens. Below, Lyn Humpries of English is one of several of the about 200 people who attended to address the IDEM officials. Photos by Chris Adams
Matt Stuckey, branch chief for IDEM's Office of Air Quality/Permits Branch, said that 250 tons per year is the cut-off, and anything below that, by rule, has to be considered a minor source and, therefore, isn't subject to the more stringent requirements of a major source applicant, including an environmental impact study.

"And this is the argument you wish to make?" Mark Woods, co-chair of the biomass plant opposition group Concerned Citizens of Crawford County, asked.

"This is not the argument we wish to make," Stuckey said. "This is what the federal government requires."

Another person later asked Stuckey if there was a standard deviation applied to the tonnage, noting that even an error of 1 percent additional pollution would put the plant over the 250-ton limit.

"That's a number that gets used in permits all over the place," he said, adding it doesn't mean a company necessarily plans on emitting that much pollution. However, if the plant were to emit above 250 tons over 12 months, then it would be considered a major source of pollution, Stuckey said.

Several people, including Cara Beth Jones, the other co-chair of the Concerned Citizens, said they didn't understand how IDEM could consider regulating outdoor wood-fired boilers after receiving just 41 complaints but potentially approve an air permit for the biomass plant when more than 2,000 people have signed a petition against its construction.

"I think that says a little something," she said of the number of signatures.

Stuckey, in addressing Bo Brashear, president of the North Milltown Landowners Association, who was the first to mention the boilers in comparison to the biomass plant, said the two are "apples and oranges." While there currently are controls on facilities like the proposed biomass plant, outdoor boilers aren't regulated, he said.

Jones, who lives within a mile of the proposed plant site at the northwest intersection of state roads 64 and 66 near Milltown, added she is worried that the 50 tons of ash per hour the plant could produce will be stored on-site — especially if mixed with water — because of the karst topography.

"I think that would be absolutely devastating to this community," she said.

Later, Lyn Humphries, of English, asked for the ash to be tested.

Addressing concerns about what the plant would burn for fuel, Stuckey said the permit application has been changed to no longer include items like switchgrass and instead only lists clean wood, which he defined as "untreated, uncoated." Throughout the meeting, however, that was repeatedly questioned, with many in the crowd expressing concerns that a different fuel source could be used. Stuckey said changing fuel sources would require modification of the permit, and the company would have to undergo a process similar to that of the initial application.

Stuckey also was questioned when he said the biomass plant doesn't contain an incinerator. While the permit application includes guidelines for incineration, that is standard in permit applications, even if a facility will not have an incinerator, he explained.

Other concerns included questions about the engineering integrity of the stack height, the timelines for monitoring and inspection and air dispersal.

In response to a question from Shane Avery, a family physician from Scottsburg, where LGR has announced plans to build another plant, Stuckey said IDEM would re-examine the stack height to ensure it complies with guidelines. Regarding concerns that five years is too long for the initial permit and IDEM isn't requiring enough inspection and monitoring, Stuckey said the plant isn't being treated differently and that, if warranted, more inspections could be conducted. He also said that, based on his experience, he doesn't believe air dispersal modeling is needed, saying the emissions will come out of the stack with enough force to prevent them from hovering over the area.

Linda Jenkins, who lives along S.R. 64 within sight of where the plant would be located, said a balloon launch was conducted in the area to see how far the wind would carry them.

"Some of them just stayed there," Jenkins, whose house has been for sale for months, said.

"I'd like to know if either one of you had children, would you want it?" Jenkins, holding back tears, asked the IDEM officials, receiving applause from the crowd. "We have a nice community here, and to have something put in here, this is just not the right place."

Stuckey said all three of the IDEM officials in front of the crowd have children and he wishes there were regulations on how close facilities can be built next to things like schools, but they can only act on the authority given to them by the state legislature and the Environmental Protection Agency.

"You come to me and ask if I can stop this plant from being built, and the answer is no, not if they meet" all of the requirements, he said. "What my personal feelings are have little to do with this discussion tonight."

Stuckey said the permit rules can only be changed through the legislative process and only local zoning could prevent a plant from going in an area like the proposed Milltown site, which is surrounded by homes and within minutes of Milltown Elementary School.

Woods, however, said he didn't understand how IDEM could consider issuing a permit when LGR hasn't secured a contract for water and changing the water source from what is listed in the application could alter the amount of emissions. Stuckey responded that if the water source changes, and the makeup of the water does, in fact, change the emission levels, then the permit would need to be modified.

Several people, including David Coyte, a small energy producer in Kentucky, asked if the emissions from the trucks that would be rolling in and out of the plant property are considered in the air permit. Stuckey answered that they are not, because they are regulated by other sources.

Larry Bye, president of the Crawford County Board of Commissioners and whose district the plant would be located, submitted a letter to IDEM officials that requested the agency require LGR to prepare an environment impact study. The letter also addressed several concerns the commissioners have with the project, including questions about what would be used for fuel and the resulting emissions.

Jones and Woods both asked that IDEM conduct a public hearing before the public comment period ends.

IDEM officials, Stuckey said, chose to have a public meeting instead because they believed it would be more beneficial. During a public meeting, they can answer questions; whereas, in a public hearing, they can only listen while the comments are recorded for the public record, he explained.

Stuckey, however, said he will notify the agency's commissioner of the desire for a public hearing.

Liberty Green Renewables did not have anyone speak at last Wednesday's meeting.

IDEM's Robert Elstro said that, while the public comment period will end Feb. 1, it is difficult to gauge when a decision on the permit will be made. Some permits take months before a determination is made, he said.

If the permit is approved, Elstro said, the public will have 18 days to appeal the decision to the Office of Environmental Adjudication, which is separate from IDEM.

IDEM will conduct a public meeting in Scott County regarding Liberty Green Renewables' proposed biomass plant there on Wednesday, Feb. 3.

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