Group says ethanol plant poses risks

February 22, 2005|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Officials of the Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority said they were favorably impressed by the tour of an ethanol plant last week in Monroe, Wis., but a citizens group hopes to keep a similar project from being built in the Cumberland Valley Business Park.

"The ultimate goal of my clients is to not have the ethanol plant built in that location" or elsewhere in Franklin County where it would pose a threat to people's safety, said Frederic G. Antoun Jr., the attorney for Citizens for a Quality Environment.

"The potential danger of these plants is that they don't just store huge amounts of ethanol," but a number of other toxic chemicals, as well, including ammonia, sulfuric acid and gasoline, according to Antoun. The risks include fires, explosions and air pollution, he said.


The county and township governments would be required to develop evacuation plans for a 2.5-mile radius around the proposed Penn-Mar Ethanol plant is case of a disaster, according to Antoun. Additional emergency management plans along railways carrying chemicals to and from the plant also would be needed, as well as increased truck traffic carrying hazardous materials, he said.

The plant also could adversely affect housing development outside of the business park, which was once a part of Letterkenny Army Depot, he said.

"What's the cost to the county and surrounding townships to have this plant in the neighborhood?" Antoun asked. "The cost-benefit analysis has not been done yet."

Despite assurances from municipal and ethanol plant officials in Monroe, Antoun said environmental and safety issues will surface if the plant is built. Such problems "occur routinely throughout the ethanol industry," he said.

Penn-Mar Ethanol had planned to build the plant in Conoy Township in Lancaster County, Pa., but Antoun said it was local opposition rather than economics that caused investors to look elsewhere.

Antoun said Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority officials were given similar assurances by another manufacturer in the park, which has been cited repeatedly by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for violating air quality regulations.

Antoun said other issues are important, such as whether the ethanol plant is a permitted use within an industrial zone in Greene Township.

"We've had our attorneys review our ordinance and it does fit into that," said Greene Township Supervisor Charles D. Jamison Jr., who also serves on the authority's board of directors. He toured the Badger State Ethanol plant in Monroe last week.

"I went to Wisconsin with real serious reservations," Jamison said Monday. He said he was impressed, however, by the level of safety precautions at the plant and expects the same from Penn-Mar Ethanol, adding, "I want to see it in writing."

"Do they have some valid points? Yes, and we intend to look into them," Jamison said of issues raised by Citizens for a Quality Environment. "We're not going to sit back and let something locate here that is a detriment to the community."

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