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In defense of the ordinance before us


I am writing to address a misconception that seems to be spreading among those in favor of protecting Crawford County's environment from polluting industries through the use of the ordinance prepared by Barnes & Thornburg and made available to the public on Tuesday, May 25. It is time to set aside our fears and trust our elected officials. This ordinance, with a few minor alterations, will protect us and our beautiful environment without prohibiting non-polluting businesses and industries from entering the county.

Of course, this ordinance is not aimed at any one business. For example, Liberty Green Renewables LLC; to do that would be illegally discriminatory. However, LGR and its proposed biomass incinerator make a perfect example of the power of this ordinance. I know that many citizens hoped to simply require further studies be done that would show the harm this facility would cause here. They mistrust this ordinance because it calls for studies that, on the surface, seem to have been done already by LGR in pursuit of its Air and Soil IDEM permits. I ask them to consider that those studies do, in fact, show the harm to our health and adverse impacts to our environment and that this ordinance stands to prevent. The Concerned Citizens have proven that the effects on our air and water that would result from the level of pollutants listed in those permit applications cause substantial harm, thereby giving our commissioners grounds to deny an operating license to such a facility should it apply for one.

The weakest section is Section 3C, the air pollution restriction, but with a little work it will be effective. As Mick Harrison, a nationally known and respected environmental defense attorney stated at the May 24 commissioners' meeting, this section defines unacceptable air pollution as only that which causes cancer when it is breathed. He added that the pollutants listed, such as dioxin, affect us through the food chain, not usually by breathing them. This definition also omits the many acute and chronic respiratory ailments such pollutants are known to cause (see studies by the American Lung Association). Harrison, an attorney hired by neither side but helping us solely because he cares about us, is right. If we add "or absorbed through the food chain" and "acute and/or chronic respiratory ailments" to this section, it will protect us. Even I, upon the first reading, thought this section should demand studies beyond those done by LGR (as an example) for their air permit application; however, I now realize the chemicals listed in the URS study done, although perhaps acceptable to IDEM and the EPA as the best industry is required to do, would not demonstrate that there is no danger of acute or chronic health effects as this ordinance requires. Moreover, it requires they be measured on the property line. IDEM standards do not do this; they allow for higher levels of toxins within the immediate area of an incinerator. This distinction is critical; it would protect Linda and Rodney Jenkins and the other immediate neighbors from such a proposed industry. I thank our commissioners for that.

Section 3D requires a new study be done, one on the costs to our roads and bridges due to the increased heavy truck traffic such facilities cause. This protects the taxpayers from incurring the costs of private industry. Again, I believe we should thank our commissioners.

Sections 3E, H and J address water usage, and I believe they do so very effectively. Again, many desired further studies be required to prove harm would be done to our environment should a facility like the one LGR proposes be located here, especially on their proposed site by the Blue River. I do understand that, but, having read the soil application plan submitted by LGR for their proposed incinerator, it is clear to me that it does not contain documentation showing their "pollutant laden" (IDEM's words) discharge water "will not adversely impact any water" such as the nearby river. That is an assertion LGR's Mr. (Terry) Naulty has made, but his proposed evidence for that is ludicrous, and our commissioners know it. Since the proposed site is karst topography (the Blue River Group as identified by the DNR) and contains many sinkholes and caves, we (and our commissioners) all know the bedrock is cracked limestone. Water added to such topography simply runs into a sinkhole or seeps through the cracks in the rock under the soil. New sinkholes appear continually as these cracks are moistened. Should a company like LGR use a drainage plan as Section 3J calls for and they have submitted to IDEM for a soil permit, not only has the company failed to demonstrate no adverse impact to the nearby river, it has proven there will, in fact, be toxic water added to it and the aquifer by their plan. The commissioners need only request under Section 3L that a dye-tracing study be done on the site's sinkholes, which, by the way, LGR (as an example) would have to pay for. If their discharge water gets in the river or any well, Sections 3H and J would deny them a license to operate. Moreover, Section 3M allows us to enter a site, such as LGR's (for example) and conduct the dye-tracing study the company has sought to avoid. Mr. Naulty's laughable assertion in a letter to IDEM that there will be enough dry soil and switchgrass to absorb up to 300,000 gallons of polluted water a day, preventing it from ever seeping through the cracked limestone or entering the sinkholes, even in winter after eight inches of rain when the switchgrass is not growing, would never suffice to meet the requirements of this ordinance, not to any reasonable person and certainly not to our commissioners. They are, I believe, much wiser than some would think, and this ordinance reveals that clearly.

Those water sections further protect our wells and the "scenic" designation the Blue River currently holds. Section 3H says that if new equipment will be installed (a system to discharge polluted water into the ground, for example), a study must be conducted showing it won't adversely impact the "quantity or quality" of our water. No amount of impact is specified! Of course, pouring all that polluted water, as LGR (for example) proposed, on the ground would impact the groundwater. Moreover, a company could not dig wells (specified clearly in this section of the ordinance) and remove 500,000 gallons of water a day from our aquifer without affecting the "quantity" of water available in Milltown's or the neighbors' wells at all. Also, if the Blue River could lose its "scenic" designation, as Commissioner Larry Bye has discovered through his own laudable investigations into LGR's proposed facility, the ordinance prohibits their receipt of an operating license.

With that, Mr. Bye has protected our precious river for future generations.

To sum up the remainder of the provisions of this ordinance, it requires many new studies not required by IDEM be performed and paid for by the company applying for an operating license. It requires an independent consultant tell us the impact on tourism such industries create. It requires an independent adviser report on the financial impact to the county. It requires enough money be put up in advance to clean the whole site when it closes. It requires the company to pay for equipment and training for our local firefighters to respond to fires or chemical spills such companies often create. Moreover, it allows us, through our commissioners, to require any other studies we like, even to enter the site and conduct them ourselves, and submit those findings to the commissioners.

It also does a great service to democracy itself. Normally, ordinances do not require a public hearing for passage by the commissioners, only public notification. This one does. They did that to assure that those of us who know the dangers revealed in studies such as those performed for IDEM's pollution permits have the opportunity to help them interpret the data, to explain to them, for example, that 1.7 million pounds of air pollution per year identified in an air permit application does indeed have health risks which IDEM may permit but this ordinance can prohibit. Our commissioners, all three of them, have listened to many hours of data presented by their constituents revealing the dangers of such facilities. They have indicated a willingness to hear us every time such a threat to our county appears by providing a public hearing before they decide on granting such companies an operating license. They are truly our representatives, and this ordinance, especially that provision, proves it.

During the course of this battle between polluting industry and our county, we have come together and are doing something right for future generations here. I want to thank our county council members for adopting a new tax abatement policy that ensures industries list all pollution they intend to bring us prior to receiving a tax break, giving our officials the opportunity to deny tax abatements to private companies that would poison us for money. Thank you, attorney Marcus Burgher and the council for that protection.

It was when IDEM presented LGR's plan to the county at a Farm Bureau-sponsored meeting that our commissioner, Larry Bye, heard IDEM's director say that only our local elected officials could protect us from such industry. Mr. Bye also heard Baron Hill say the same thing in a letter the congressman wrote to me that I submitted to the commissioners. Larry's response to these powerful agencies and figures was not to hide his head in the sand and take no stand, such as Milltown's Council President Curt Hudson chose to do. Larry's response was a soldier's, to fight for our safety while the officers, the generals in command, stay safely behind in their headquarters. He was not operating under orders, only from a sense of duty. Bless him for that.

Finally, I know that the careful deliberation the commissioners required before acting on this issue has worn the nerves of many very thin. We have had sleepless nights for a year and a half during this process. Many have wept openly. Fear has haunted our sleeping and waking hours. It is time to set our fear aside, to rest well knowing all our efforts have been heard and appreciated, our goals achieved. Our current elected officials have shown themselves, by creating this ordinance and by being, I believe, ready to pass it, to have the intellectual depth to understand the scientific data they have received, to have the analytical skill to see through a corporation's and IDEM's assurances of safety.

Most importantly, they have revealed their small-town hearts — enormous hearts with the capacity, at no small risk to themselves, to empathize with our fears and protect us from danger.

I hope you will all join me in offering thanks to each of our elected officials for the heroic effort they have mounted in our defense and support the ordinance they have created to protect us. Rest assured, it will get the job done.

Mark Woods, co-chair of the Concerned Citizens of Crawford County
June 02, 2010


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