By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item
NEW COLUMBIA — About a mile-and-a-half from the proposed site of a tire-derived fuel plant and about a month before a public comment period is set to expire, about 50 community members gathered Monday evening to express their opposition to the plant and create an environment that is “toxic for the toxins,” according to the Rev. Leah Schade.
The town-hall-style meeting in the White Deer Elementary School was intended to answer basic questions for the public and encourage people to write letters to the state Department of Environmental Protection opposing the plant as part of a public comment period. The 45-day comment period — which was extended in early May — ends July 5, according to the group.
Questions ranged from basic inquiries about the plant’s location and funding to more advanced questions about environmental toxins and permitting.
The proposed plant would be built by Baltimore-based Emmanuel Tires, under the limited liability company, En-Tire Logistics, of Milton, created to protect the company’s liability in the event of any issues, according to David Jacobson, a member of Organizations United for the Environment, one of the groups leading the fight against the proposed plant.
“Behind the scenes, it’s Emmanuel Tires,” he said.
One of the main consumers of the proposed plant’s 7.2 megawatts of produced energy would be National Gypsum Co.’s West Milton area building, and the plant would be adjacent to the drywall manufacturer. However, National Gypsum would not be the only customer of the plant, Jacobson said.
“A lot of tires are going to be burned, and they’re going to generate a lot of power,” he said. “Some will be sold to National Gypsum, the rest will be converted to electricity and sold to PPL.”
The tires are old, worn-out tires that have been sold to Emmanuel after customers purchased new ones, Jacobson said. The White Deer Township plant, if built, would be only the second dedicated tire burner in the nation, with the other being in Sterling, Conn., which is in the process of reducing tire burning after numerous environmental violations and the introduction of a breed of Asian mosquitoes — which accompanied imported tires — into the local ecosystem.
Many questions surrounded who has the political clout to approve or deny the project. One person said the responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the White Deer Township supervisors.
“A lot of us are focusing on DEP, and I think it’s the wrong fight,” said Pete Mackey, who lives with his family, including two young girls, only miles from the plant’s proposed site. He noted that the state Department of Environmental Protection only has the power to question the plant’s immediate impact on the environment. “The township supervisors do (have the power). And what they are exposed to is our political votes. That’s where the fight can be won,” he said.
Many in the crowd noted that the township supervisors were not at the meeting.
Much of the concern also surrounded the possibility of a fire occurring at the plant.
“They are horrendous,” Mackey said. “These are serious fires that are difficult to put out.”
Area resident Stacy Richards said when she heard about the proposed plant, she was concerned because during her tenure at DEP as deputy secretary for pollution prevention and compliance assistance under former Gov. Tom Ridge, the idea of burning tires was rejected as a viable alternative.
“There is a problem with tires, they contain a lot of chemicals,” she said. “I’m very concerned about the smell and the omitting of what (chemicals) will be permitted (by DEP).”
However, while Jacobson said he is opposed to the project, there are some arguments for the plant, he said.
“There are benefits,” he said. “There are some number of jobs that will be brand new jobs.”
The plant would create about 35 jobs, he said. Some local companies in the area also will financially benefit, Jacobson conceded.
Schade, an organizer of OUE, emphasized that opposition to the plant has nothing to do with National Gypsum as a company.
“We are not opposed to Gypsum being able to conduct their business,” she said.
“We’re all people, and we all have different perspectives,” Jacobson said. “Through reason and logic, I believe there is a better way.”