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Williamsport residents fear plant closure will have domino effect

January 26, 2012|By CALEB CALHOUN | caleb.calhoun@herald-mail.com

Williamsport resident Johnna Artz didn’t mince words Thursday about her opposition to the closing of the R. Paul Smith Power Station in town.

“This affects everybody,” she said. “It hurts the whole community with the number of jobs and revenue lost.”

The plant, which went on line in 1927 and employs around 40 people, is being closed as a result of tougher emission regulations imposed by theU.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Artz, 71, who has lived in Williamsport for 48 years, said that the plant closing will impact her family. She said the federal government could focus on other environmental issues instead of those that take away jobs.

“I feel Interstate 81 with all of the tractor-trailers gives the environment more pollution than the power plant has,” she said. “It’s not killing our wildlife, and it’s not killing our people.”

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Hagerstown resident Diane French, owner of A Touch of Country on East Potomac Street in Williamsport, grew up in the town and said the plant has been there for as long as she can remember.

“I don’t like to see anybody lose their job or a business to close,” French said. “It’s definitely going to be a negative factor on the town.

“I wish there was some way they could have met those regulations to stay open,” she said. “This could affect other businesses in town.”

Williamsport Mayor James McCleaf II said that the closing of the plant could result in the loss of about $80,000 in tax revenue for the town.

The website for the Maryland Department of Assessment and Taxation lists the plant property on Lockwood Road as 37.5 acres between the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Potomac River, with a structure of 59,000 square feet.

The assessed value of the property as of Jan. 1, 2012, was $3,958,700.

“It’s a very large base gone and a huge economic impact,” McCleaf said. “We’ve been hit hard with this closing. Any time you lose jobs it’s a devastating blow.”

The impact on the town’s economy will involve more than just lost taxes,  McCleaf said.

“Those people eat here, and they get their gas here. I see some of them in our restaurants,” he said. “Some of them live in town.”

The town government will work to try to overcome the economic impact caused by the plant’s closing, McCleaf said.

“We will not raise taxes, and we’ll live within our means,” he said. “We'll also work with Allegheny Energy to make sure the plant is not an eyesore once it’s empty.”

Asked if he was surprised by the closing, Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, whose subdistrict includes the plant, said: “Yes and no.”

Although Serafini didn’t specifically anticipate Thursday’s news, he said the move fits with President Obama’s push to reduce coal-fired power plants.

“It’s a war on coal,” Serafini said.

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