By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item
ALLENWOOD — A proposed tire-derived fuel plant in White Deer Township will not improve air quality and “will emit contaminants into the air,” an official of En-Tie Logistics said in response to an audience question during a contentious public hearing Thursday night about the White Deer Energy Project.
The impurities will come from “a new source that we will be permitted to emit,” said Roy Rakiewicz, of En-Tire, and one of four officials of the White Deer Energy Project, the proposed plant in White Deer Township that will burn recycled tires to generate power and steam to National Gypsum Co.
The answer was in response to Pat Parker, of Lewisburg, who told officials she wanted yes-or-no answers to her questions.
“Will this emit contaminants?” Parker asked.
Passions rose quickly at the public meeting and hearing. Elected officials and citizens were among the nearly 150 attendees, who appeared unanimous in their objection to the plant.
The biggest fear is that burning recycled tires will put highly toxic pollutants into the air even at levels acceptable to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
DEP had six officials on its panel, including Marcus Kohl, regional director of the northcentral office; Muhammad Zaman, environmental program manager; and Craig Evans of the Bureau of Air Quality. They answered most questions addressed to DEP.
It took all of about 20 minutes to settle official business, as DEP representatives explained the project’s application and how they evaluated it.
Mark Rannie, a vice president with Emanuel Tire Co., one of four partners on the project, listed additional benefits of the plant, including an alternative energy source and creation of about 35 full-time jobs.
The floor then opened for questions.
“Why should I sit idly by and get cancer while these people make money?” shouted David Jacobson, of Lewisburg, who later donned a surgical mask to make his point.
Evans, of DEP’s Bureau of Air Quality, said the agency reviewed the application for 35 known hazardous compounds and found it compliant for limits. Jacobson asked about other compounds DEP didn’t review but didn’t get a clear answer.
Neither did Leah Tewksbury, of Muncy, who asked whether the increase in hazardous air quality was for the plant alone or for all of Pennsylvania, a concern with the natural gas industry.
Evans replied the level included “background concentration.”
Officials said the plant will meet or exceed federal environmental standards, and Rannie said the project cost rose from $17 million to $48 million to bring in what’s called “best available technology” to ensure it stays compliant.
“A lot of time, effort and expense were spent to ensure the project follows our philosophy,” Rannie said. “We do this not because we have to, but because we should.”
Kohl said he wanted it clear that DEP has issued only a draft air-quality plan approval.
“No final decision has been made,” he said, adding DEP takes public sentiments and comments very seriously when making such a decision.
But at least two elected officials wondered how that could be when DEP gave just five minutes per person for public comment, and written comments must be provided to Zaman, DEP’s environmental program manager, by close of business May 13, just 11 days from Thursday night’s meeting.
One request would be for DEP to give the public more time to study the application and results, Union County Commissioner John Showers said.
“The industry itself made comparisons” to other known polluting operations and said the tire-burning facility would be cleaner, Showers said, “but how can citizens evaluate that in 11 days? National Gypsum is generating electricity one way or another. Is there a way to employ more technology? Is gas cleaner?”
Showers appreciated the comments of Clyde Peeling, owner of Reptiland, in Allenwood, and long an environmental champion.
“He told (officials) why the whole Valley is distressed about this,” recounting other government promises from Alvira in western Union County, which the federal government took over in World War II and promised to give back and didn’t; to the Lycoming County landfill; to the fight with Union Pacific about 20 years ago over a proposed hazardous-materials incinerator; to the ongoing issues and struggles surround fracking. “I’ve lived long enough to know there are good people in government,” Peeling told the panels, “but doubt whether there are good governments.”
“A lot of people are concerned, and rightfully so,” said state Rep. Fred Keller, R-85, of Kreamer, who said he, too, would like to see his constituents have more time to study the documents and comparisons.
Keller said he will talk with DEP officials about the matter.
“What does it hurt to extend the time?” he said.