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Board hears more debate over ethanol plant

April 19, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

SCOTLAND, Pa. - Having heard about three hours of testimony Monday night, the Greene Township Zoning Hearing Board has 45 days to decide whether a proposed ethanol plant is permitted in a heavy industrial district and what differentiates a building from a structure.

Approximately 120 people crowded into the Greene Township Municipal Building as the board heard testimony on Penn-Mar Ethanol's application for a variance on 22 structures that exceed the township zoning ordinance height restriction of 45 feet. The board also heard from opponents questioning whether the plant is allowed without a conditional use permit.

Penn-Mar, a group of Pennsylvania and Maryland investors, plans to build an $80 million ethanol plant on 55 acres in the Cumberland Valley Business Park to produce 60 million gallons of the fuel additive a year from about 20 million bushels of corn. In February the York, Pa., partnership entered into a sales agreement with the Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority to purchase the land for $2.24 million.

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"You won't be surprised to hear that a distillery is not a permitted use in your township," said Frederic G. Antoun Jr., the attorney for Citizens for a Quality Environment, a group opposed to the plant. He cited statements from Penn-Mar officials and others that referred to the plant as a distillery or refinery operation, which is also not specifically listed as a permitted use.

Antoun said Penn-Mar later redefined itself as a "large-scale manufacturing plant" to get around the question. If the zoning board decides it is a conditional use, that would throw the decision on whether to grant that use to the Greene Township Board of Supervisors, he said.

Antoun said the determination that the plant qualifies as a permitted use was made by Zoning Officer Travis Brookens, township attorney Welton Fischer and Charles D. Jamison Jr., chairman of the board of supervisors. He said they did so improperly and the zoning board "has the authority to find it is not a permitted use."

Penn-Mar attorney D. Reed Anderson countered that the zoning ordinance allows for uses engaged in basic manufacturing, including manufacturing from raw materials. Reed said food processing is a permitted use and called Antoun's assertions "completely far-fetched and off-base."

The board also heard from Letterkenny Army Depot, which is adjacent to the site. Glenn Trego, the deputy director of public works, read a letter from Depot Commander Col. William Guinn, stating the Army has received no information from Penn-Mar or LIDA on the possible affects of the plant on the depot's radar testing program and other functions.

"We in the Army really have no information on this plant whatsoever," Trego said.

Much of the testimony dealt with structures Penn-Mar plans to build and whether they require variances or are exempt from height limitations. David Cleaver, the attorney for the zoning board, noted that some structures, such as chimneys, spires and silos are exempt from the height restriction.

"The current building height limitation of 45 feet does not allow for the development of the property as a large scale manufacturing facility which is a permitted use under the zoning ordinance," according Penn-Mar's application for a variance. The application stated the limitation is "an unnecessary hardship."

The tallest structure would be a 160-foot grain elevator, according to the application. Three other structures, a thermal oxidizer stack, a dryer and grain cleaner and miller were listed at 100 feet or more.

Mike Buckland, a project engineer with Lurgi PSI of Memphis, Tenn., described the evaporators, fermenters, cooling towers and other structures individually.

Antoun countered that all are connected by conveyors, pipes, electrical and computers systems and should be considered as a whole in the ethanol production process.

Each side was told to submit briefs to the board. Cleaver said board members Lee Kyler, Emery Elbel and Ernie Tarner have 45 days to make the decision, but it could come within a month.

In March, the boards of supervisors of Greene and Letterkenny townships held a joint meeting to take public comment on the ethanol plant, but it ended shortly after it started when several hundred people showed up. The meeting was rescheduled for Thursday, April 28, at Faust Junior High School in Chambersburg, Pa., to accommodate an expected large crowd.

While there were no disturbances at Monday's meeting, five Chambersburg police officers were in attendance.

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