By Evamarie Socha
It’s Air Quality Awareness Week in Pennsylvania — a fitting time given that the first public hearing for the White Deer Energy Project is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Warrior Run Fire Department's social building, 196 White Deer Ave, Allenwood. Public comments are scheduled to begin at 8 p.m
The proposed plant’s effect on air quality is a chief concern, said an assortment of government officials and members of the environmental group Organizations United for the Environment, who plan to attend the meeting.
Some people can’t see how a facility that burns recycled tires for energy can be safe. Others are withholding judgment until they hear more.
State Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Daniel Spadoni stressed that the state agency has not issued an air quality plan approval for the project in White Deer Township, a $50 million venture that will use recycled tires to generate 7 megawatts of electricity and steam for an adjacent building.
In a notice of the public hearing, DEP said in reviewing the White Deer Energy Project’s application, it has determined the proposed level of air contaminant emissions satisfy “best available control technology” as well as best available technology. The plant plans also include “air cleaning devices” and other high-tech control methods, DEP said in the notice.
DEP is hosting the meeting, and its officials and members of the White Deer Energy Project team first will discuss the project, followed by a public question-and-answer period.
Union County Commissioner John Showers said he and Commissioner Preston Boop are juggling schedules to attend “and get more information on this project.”
“We’re not pre-judging anything,” Showers said. “We want to hear more.”
The White Deer Energy Project would be located next to National Gypsum Co.’s West Milton building in Union County and would supply energy to that plant. The effort could create as many as 35 jobs, project officials said.
Keeping an open mind appears to be the goal for most public officials. State Rep. Fred Keller, R-85 of Kreamer, said he plans to attend the meeting with “no preconceived notions.”
“I want to understand what all will be involved, air quality and so forth, with the project,” Keller said.
But he also wants to hear what the community has to say. “The community needs dialog and debate” about this, he said.
The project first came to light when Keller’s predecessor, Russ Fairchild, was in office. It resurfaced in August 2011, when project team members toured Union County to talk to officials and assuage their fears. Keller was among those officials.
No one had contacted White Deer Township about the meeting as of last week, said Supervisor Carroll Diefenbach.
“All we know is what we’re reading in the paper,” he said.
But Diefenbach and other township officials will be at the meeting “just to see what the status is.”
“None of us (supervisors) want to jump the gun on this,” he said, “We really hate to get in the position of acting prematurely.”
That doesn’t lessen township officials’ concerns about the project, he said.
“We want the people of White Deer Township to know we do have concerns, we’re not just letting things slide,” he said. “We just want to act out of knowledge.”
OUE has spent time since August 2011 collecting information and has gathered enough to stand firm against the facility. It began a “ban the burner” campaign last year to heighten public awareness, and enlisted the help of Sherri Mason, an associate professor of chemistry at the State University of New York-Freedonia, who has studied the emissions of tire fuel plants.
In a December 2012 letter to DEP, Mason, an atmospheric chemist, cited the emission of hazardous air pollutants — including compounds suspected of causing cancer — from the plant.
OUE members gathered last week to outline their approach to the meeting but mainly hope to engage the public more in the discussion.
“This is just a chemical-producing factory,” said David Laidacker, OUE president. “There is no benefit to the citizens at all.”
The Rev. Leah Schade of the United in Christ Lutheran Church in West Milton said she wants to encourage the project members to widen their options for fueling the plant. “Are there other ways? How about biomass?” she said. “People want to understand what’s happening in their own backyards.”