November 23, 2011Cara Beth Jones is sleeping better now that the company that wanted to build a woody-biomass-to-electricity plant has withdrawn its environmental permits, but she says there is still work to do.
In September, Liberty Green Renewables Indiana LLC — the company that in December 2008 announced plans to build a facility on property it purchased northwest of the intersection of state roads 64 and 66 North near Milltown and later a similar facility at Scottsburg — requested permanent revocation of the permits from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
The request included two air permits, both issued in July 2010, and an acid rain permit issued in October 2010.
"All of the sources permitted under the above listed permits were never constructed or operated, and there are no longer any plans to do so," LGRI representative J.P. Rexroad wrote in a Sept. 26 letter to IDEM.
Jones, who served as co-chair of the grassroots Concerned Citizens of Crawford County opposition group with Mark Woods, said that, short of the company selling the 110 acres it purchased near Milltown, this is the best news the organization could have received.
"I think what the citizens did was remarkable," she said.
The Concerned Citizens, formed in early 2009, attended meetings of almost every entity they believed could influence the construction of the plant. However, the organization was a mainstay at the county board of commissioners' monthly meetings, pressing for an ordinance that would regulate facilities like the biomass plant.
The commissioners adopted the licensing ordinance in June 2009 and then, in August of this year at Jones' request, reaffirmed their commitment.
During those meetings, the Concerned Citizens raised questions about the effects the biomass plant would have on the area's air and nearby Blue River, as well as how much of a drain it would be on the water supply. They also spent considerable time, sometimes hours, sharing the findings of their research, which included enlisting the assistance of state and national experts.
Jones, who didn't have a computer until her children bought her one, said it wasn't unusual for her to be at the home of Lorie Crecelius, another member of the Concerned Citizens, until 3 a.m. doing research on the Internet. She then still had to get up and go to work the next morning.
"I never dreamed it would be this hard," Jones said.
With guidance from Jones and other members of the Concerned Citizens, a similar group was formed in Scottsburg. The two groups kept in close contact, even attending meetings in the other's county. In addition, members of the Crawford County group provided assistance in the Scottsburg organization's joint legal action with the Citizens Actions Coalition of Indiana against the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.
Jones said that while the biomass plants in both counties appear defeated, there is still plenty of work to do. The Concerned Citizens told the Crawford County commissioners that, if they passed a solid licensing ordinance, it would have an impact elsewhere. Jones said the ordinance has been sent to Port Townsend, Wash., where a biomass plant has been proposed.
"This still goes on in other places," she said. "I think it's important that this ordinance that the county passed is being used as a guide, as it was in Scottsburg to what they passed."
Closer to home, Jones pointed to the biomass plant that is planned for Jasper in neighboring Dubois County. Concerned about possible pollution, she also is worried about the potential negatives from using non-edible miscanthus as the fuel source, including having it grown on current farmland.
"You're going to take more and more of our good acreage away for our food," she said.
Jones said that, if the biomass plant is unsuccessful, farmers will be left in a bind, as it takes three years to get rid of miscanthus before the land can be used for other crops.
"A lot of this looks good on paper" but not in reality, she said.
The biomass facility, Jones said, is supposed to be cleaner than the former coal plant it replaces, but, if there isn't enough miscanthus to keep it fueled, which she believes to be the case, then other, non-clean fuel sources, such as trees and garbage, will have to be used.
"It's either the trees or the trash," she said.
Jones said the Concerned Citizens don't meet in person like they did, but they're still active.
"We might not be meeting every month, but we're still talking on the phone," she said.
The purpose of group was for the people of Crawford County and surrounding areas to be able to raise questions and concerns about the biomass plant, Jones.
"Everything that a community brings in needs to be scrutinized like this for the benefit of the citizens who have to live with it," she said.
Jones said she and the others often have been described as activists, but she doesn't really see them that way. Instead, she explained, they were just a group of people trying to protect the quality of life for them and their children and grandchildren.
"I think a better word for us is 'protectors'," she said.
Biomass plant timeline of events
Dec. 30, 2008 — Liberty Green Renewables LLC announces to the Crawford County Board of Commissioners plans to develop an $80 million 28-megawatt biomass-to-electricity facility on a 110-acre site north of Milltown. LGR officials say the facility is expected to begin operation in late 2011 and will directly employ 25 full-time employees with another 130-plus indirect jobs related to fuel logistics possible.
Jan. 20, 2009 — About 70 Milltown-area residents attend a meeting at the Blue River Café to voice concerns about the proposed plant. The group refers to itself as the Concerned Citizens of Crawford County. "We're living in kind of a fishbowl here in Milltown," Cara Beth Jones, the group's co-chair, says at the meeting. "Any pollution created here will probably stay here. We have a good life here — a good place to live. We don't want that taken away."
Feb. 26, 2009 — The Concerned Citizens and LGR officials address the Crawford County Board of Commissioners. It is the largest crowd to attend a commissioners' meeting since the judicial complex in English opened in 2004. The Concerned Citizens are a mainstay at commissioners' meetings for the next year-plus.
April 14, 2009 — The Concerned Citizens ask the Crawford County Council to deny any tax abatement requests from LGR and to write a letter to state and federal officials opposing the location of the proposed facility. "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," Glen Crecelius, a member of the Concerned Citizens, says. "These rascals don't need no help." The council takes no action regarding the letter.
April 22, 2009 — The Crawford County Board of Commissioners vote 3-0 to request a federal environmental impact study be conducted before the state issues permits for the proposed biomass plant.
May 12, 2009 — LGR officials make their first appearance before the county council. They do not request a property tax abatement but do ask the council to not be prejudiced by "false information." "We would just ask for you to make any decisions that come before your council based on facts, facts that aren't in evidence today, facts that you will get as part of the permit applications, which are going to be a matter of public record," LGR's Terry Naulty says.
May 28, 2009 — The Concerned Citizens, at a county commissioners' meeting, respond to LGR's statement to the council. "These folks out here," Tom Doddridge says, referring to the members of the Concerned Citizens, "have spent hundreds of hours researching things. I have seen most of which has been researched and sent to you or to the county council. I know of nothing that is not etched in fact."
July 23, 2009 — The Concerned Citizens tell the county commissioners that a letter they approved the previous month regarding an federal environmental impact study "was a letter of inquiry, not a request."
Sept. 24, 2009 — The newly formed North Milltown Landowners Association present the county commissioners with a sample ordinance that 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. The commissioners do not approve the ordinance but vote 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.
Oct. 13, 2009 — The county council commits to funding for the county commissioners to seek outside legal counsel regarding their authority to adopt an ordinance and require a federal environmental impact study.
Oct. 29, 2009 — The county attorney reports to the commissioners that the initial advice from Barnes & Thornburg LLP, in Indianapolis, is that an ordinance like the one proposed by the North Milltown Landowners Association would be viewed by the courts as a backdoor attempt at land-use management.
Dec. 30, 2009 — An attorney for Lucas Oil owner Forrest Lucas, who has ties to the area, including family who own property adjacent to the site of the proposed biomass plant, requests the county commissioners take action on the proposed ordinance.
Jan. 13, 2010 — Indiana Department of Environmental Management officials tell a crowd of about 200 people at a public hearing at the Crawford County 4-H Community Park that, while they sympathize with pleas to halt construction of the proposed biomass plant, they must follow prescribed guidelines when considering an application for an air permit.
March 30, 2010 — Twenty-three people speak at a public hearing at the Crawford County Judicial Complex regarding a possible county ordinance that would require the proposed biomass plant to be licensed. Twenty-two of those discuss why the plant would be bad for the community, while just one — the attorney for the plant's developer — opposes the ordinance and talks about the facility's merits. The county commissioners make no decision regarding the ordinance and recess the hearing.
April 29, 2010 — The county commissioners re-convene the public hearing regarding a proposed licensing ordinance but still make no decision as they instruct Mike Scanlon of Barnes & Thornburg LLP to continue working to create an ordinance that would be able to withstand a court challenge. The commissioners had hired Scanlon to review a proposed ordinance prepared by Ice Miller LLP at the request of Forrest Lucas and his daughter, Tammy Vanlaningham, who lives near the plant site, that would require facilities like the biomass plant to be licensed. Scanlon says he has a number of concerns about the original ordinance and had just received a second draft earlier in the week.
May 24, 2010 — At a continuation of the public hearing regarding a proposed licensing ordinance, members of the Concerned Citizen voice frustration that changes by Scanlon have made the ordinance too weak and ambiguous. The commissioners decide to allow written comments through June 3 so that a new final ordinance can be drafted and made available for public review by June 15 and voted on at the commissioners' June 29 meeting.
June 8, 2010 — The county council receives notice that it likely will be asked for additional funding to pay for legal services regarding the proposed ordinance as the work done by Barnes & Thornburg LLP has exceeded the $20,000 the council previously approved.
July 29, 2010 — The county commissioners unanimously adopt an ordinance that requires facilities like the proposed biomass plant to be licensed. Cara Beth Jones, co-chair of the Concerned Citizens, tells the commissioners the ordinance appears to be a good one. Following the 3-0 vote, most of the crowd in the courtroom stands and applauds.
Aug. 30, 2011 — At the request of Jones, the county commissioners reiterate their commitment to the ordinance.
Sept. 26, 2011 — Liberty Green Renewables Indiana sends a letter to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management requesting permanent revocation of two air permits, both issued in July 2010, and an acid rain permit issued in October 2010, for the company's proposed biomass plants in Crawford and Scott counties. "All of the sources permitted under the above listed permits were never constructed or operated, and there are no longer any plans to do so," LGRI representative J.P. Rexroad states in the letter.