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Foes of Pa. ethanol plant crowd meeting

April 29, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - The war of words over a proposed ethanol plant at the Cumberland Valley Business Park continued Thursday night during a joint meeting of the Greene and Letterkenny townships' boards of supervisors, with opponents of the plant turning out in force to voice opposition.

The meeting was a continuation of one that ended abruptly March 29, when hundreds of people showed up at the Greene Township Municipal Building. Thursday's meeting was in the auditorium of Faust Junior High School, with approximately 300 people attending.

Penn-Mar Ethanol LLC, the York, Pa., partnership proposing the $80 million plant, and Citizens for a Quality Environment, which opposes it, each had 45 minutes to present their side before residents of the two townships lined up at microphones to pose questions of Penn-Mar representatives and township officials.

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"I think if the issue was put to a ballot, I think we'd know which way it would go," Greene Township resident Jim Doyle said.

Greene Township attorney Welton Fischer said a vote by residents would not be legally binding and the township does not have the authority to totally exclude any legal business.

Fischer said Penn-Mar had submitted a development plan for the plant, but withdrew it pending a decision by the township Zoning Hearing Board on variances it has requested to the township's height limitation of 45 feet.

"We will not consider any plan until the zoning hearing board has ruled," he said. The board met April 18 and has 45 days from that date to grant or deny variances on the structures, several of which exceed 100 feet.

The board could decide an ethanol plant is not a permitted use in an industrial zone, which means the townships could impose more restrictions as a condition of granting a permit.

"We all saw what one small truck did to the federal building in Oklahoma," said Will Davis, another Greene Township resident. "It would only take just one maniac to load up a small plane with explosives" and cause a similar disaster at the plant, he said.

Part of the Citizens for a Quality Environment presentation included a video by Hugh and Barbara Baker, who visited an ethanol plant in Lena, Ill., and the Badger State Ethanol plant in Monroe, Wis. Earlier this year, the Badger State plant was visited by members of the Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority, which owns the business park.

"There's something in the air there that makes your eyes burn," Barbara Baker said in the video. She described it as smelling "like burning chemicals."

D. Howard Gebhart, an air quality consultant for Penn-Mar, later said he experienced no such odor at the plant.

Frederic G. Antoun Jr., the legal counsel for Citizens for a Quality Environment, quoted one person as saying the plant has the potential to be "the world's largest Molotov cocktail" and said the ethanol industry has a poor safety and environmental record.

No industry has been sued more by the federal and state governments for pollution violations in the past five years than the ethanol industry, Antoun said. Municipalities where plants are located also have been sued, he said.

People also expressed concerns about air and water pollution, increased truck traffic and the plant's proximity to missile maintenance and ammunition storage facilities at Letterkenny Army Depot. After 21/2 hours, just one person had spoken in favor of the plant on the basis that ethanol could reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

Penn-Mar project manager Scott Welsh and consultants for the company said the plant would meet or exceed all environmental and safety standards set by the state and federal government.

"We felt there is a need for ethanol in the eastern part of the country," Welsh said. He denied the investors moved the project to Franklin County because of opposition in Conoy Township in Lancaster County, saying it was driven by economic and logistical considerations.

Charles D. Jamison Jr., chairman of the Greene Township Board of Supervisors, said another public meeting likely will be scheduled in the future. He said the township has hired a consulting firm to review plans for the proposed ethanol plant.

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