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December 28, 2013

Silence over plant may be eye of storm

Burner foes seek talk with judge

WHITE DEER — Officials’ recent silence following a year of angry voices and loud protests over the proposed White Deer Energy Project strikes a White Deer Township supervisor as odd.

The tire-derived-fuel co-generation plant, proposed for West Milton, had its most public activity in 2013 since officials toured the Valley in 2011 to promote the idea.

But the official activity has calmed down — almost too much, Carroll Diefenbach says — in the continuing battle over the Union County facility.

“We haven’t heard from anybody, including the En-Tire people,” said Diefenbach, supervisors chairman in White Deer Township, where the plant would be built next to National Gypsum in West Milton.

Diefenbach called the lack of communication strange.

“We thought we’d hear something from somebody by now,” he said.

There has been no further word from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection over the appeals the township and several citizens filed opposing the agency’s approval in late September of the air quality permit.

The agency acknowledged receipt within the 30-day deadline of six appeals, including one from the township, in October. Several DEP spokespersons were unavailable for comment by deadline Friday.

The other five appeals were filed individually by members of the Tire Team, a group that has been most active in opposing the plant. The Rev. Leah Schade, among the group’s leaders, said the five people who filed the appeals, while part of the Tire Team, did so on their own.

Group representatives are scheduled sometime in January for “an initial conversation” with the judge assigned to the appeals case for the environmental hearing board, Schade said. The judge will decided whether to consolidate all the appeals into one hearing.

To her knowledge, Schade said, the environmental hearing board has not yet heard back from the attorney representing En-Tire in the hearings.

The tire-derived fuel plant, called the White Deer Energy Project, is a co-generation facility that would provide steam and energy to National Gypsum’s facility in West Milton. En-Tire Logistics, of Milton, is the parent company that would build the plant.

The township’s planning and zoning office also has heard nothing lately about the project, Diefenbach said.

Planning and Zoning Director Ralph Hess confirmed he’s received no zoning permit applications.

Fortunately for White Deer Township, the $44,000 in legal expenses incurred for filing its appeal were covered by the township’s general fund. The township approved its $480,000 budget for 2014 last week, a spending plan that doesn’t include a tax increase.

While official channels are quiet, the Tire Team is not letting up its fight against the facility, announcing this month it’s reached 2,000 signatures, and will continue on to 3,000, on a petition it plans to deliver to Gov. Tom Corbett, among other elected officials, asking to keep the plant out of White Deer Township.

The petition posted on Change.org, an open source online platform, shows 1,229 signatures on the document titled “National Gypsum: Keep your ETL tire incinerator out of our community.”

That’s up from 818 signatures as of Nov. 2. Team Member Pete Mackey said there also have been more than 450 in-person signatures from residents all over the Valley, particular from the concerned Union County communities.

Next on the Tire Team’s to-do list is “to try to engage officials at National Gypsum headquarters in North Carolina to discuss if they’d be willing to end this project, knowing the community opposition is so strong,” Schade said. She did not know when this may take place.

The Tire Team continues to educate the public as it has been invited to talk at various club meetings as well as requesting time at others to speak. Schade called this “indicative that people are interested to find out more.”

The group also has brought on Amanda Wooden, a Bucknell University professor who is leading the group’s community outreach effort. Wooden and nearly 30 volunteers are canvassing the region to get petition signatures and raise awareness about the tire burner.  

DEP officials announced in April preliminary approval of the air-quality permit for the En-Tire project. This brought about a confrontational public meeting in May in which, among many protests, people argued they didn’t have enough time to review stacks of public documents, including the permit application, that DEP used to make its decision.

Union County commissioners, White Deer Township supervisors and state Rep. Fred Keller joined forces to petition DEP for more time, getting the public a 45-day extension to review the documents. It was discovered later those documents did not include letters from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the American Lung Association raising questions about the plant’s capacity and pollution control.

n Email comments to esocha@dailyitem.com.

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