Crowd says no to Fibrowatt plant

First Posted: 3/5/2009

DOBSON About 35 residents flooded the Surry County commissioners meeting last night for a topic that was not on the agenda opposition to Fibrowatt locating in Surry County.
On June 5, 2008, Fibrowatt, a company which generates renewable energy from poultry litter, announced that it had chosen a site offered by Surry County near Elkin to build a new biomass-fueled power plant. This plant will provide poultry growers with an important alternative for the management of poultry litter in western North Carolina, according to the company and its supporters.
At the time of the announcement, Chairman Craig Hunter said he was excited about companys decision to chose Surry County and bring jobs with it.
We are excited to welcome a Fibrowatt plant to Surry County. This project is an important development for Surry County, bringing new jobs to the region and increasing our tax revenues, said Hunter. The poultry industry is an important employer in this region and an important part of our rural economy. This plant will help support our local poultry industry and will benefit all of the people who live in and around Surry County.
The Fibrowatt plant is expected to contribute at least $10 million annually to the local fuel purchases and transportation, employee payroll, and facility maintenance costs, according to a press release from the company.
Eric Harrington of Elkin asked the commissioners Thursday night if they had performed due diligence before agreeing to let Fibrowatt move to Surry County.
Have there been various meetings? Have the dates, times and locations been public information? Has there been a cost benefit analysis? Has there been an environmental analysis? Finally, we would like to request a delay in letting them come here until there has been a study to investigate them thoroughly, Harrington said.
Surry County resident, Hank Theil, also questioned commissioners about their knowledge of Fibrowatt.
I originally wasnt against it, but I just got more concerned the more I heard about it. We care about the economy, and we know you have a need for jobs. All we are asking for is to present the whole case. It would be appreciated. We are still open to learn. I know you went to the open house, but you know how those things go. You are invited, and they put on a good show, Theil said.
Hunter told the group that not only had they performed due diligence, that a group of local ambassadors for Surry County had gone to visit the Fibrowatt plant in Benson, Minn., to see for themselves how the plant operated.
We intentionally went the day after the open house to avoid the dog and pony show. I visited a park across the road from the plant. The way they operate is extremely clean. The way they haul the litter in there is clean. We checked to see about the smell. There wasnt any, Hunter said.
Barry Carlton of Elkin, the founder of Citizens for Responsible Economic Development, or CRED, held up a land-use plan in front of commissioners.
We had a group of citizens who got together to put together a land-use plan for what they would like to see by the year 2015. They mostly wanted to make sure we would be making the best use of our natural resources. You need to look at this plan before you decide, Carlton said.
He also had some thoughts on the prison presentation at the meeting by Mount Airy Commissioner Dean Brown.
Im totally against a prison. A town that doesnt plan plans to fail. We need to look at these plans. Im sorry I havent been involved with these plans before, Carlton said.
Hunter replied asking the group where it had been for the years the county has been involved in researching and investigating if this was a good move for the county.
Weve had countless public meetings. We have discussed this over the course of the last several years, Hunter said.
Youve got our attention now. We do not need the jobs that will be brought here by a prison or a chicken factory, Carlton said passionately to the board.
Hunter fired back, I know 77,000 people who do not agree with the statement you just made.
A farmer from Elkin, Matthew Guyer, spoke to the board at length about the concerns local farmers have about the Fibrowatt plant.
If we go to phosphorus based-soil applications what Fibrowatt has not stated is what is left over in their ash product is phosphorus and potassium. So therefore they are not removing, what Bryan (Cave, N.C. Cooperative Extension director for Surry) said could be an excess one day which is phosphorus, its still going to be there in the ash. And they are going to resell that ash within 150-mile radius. So this is not benefiting the farmers, because its not taking care of the excess phosphorus, Guyer said.
If we do have excess litter, I dont think there is 350,000 tons. We should look into a farmers cooperative, something that is owned locally and pellet it, so that way you are not losing the nitrogen through incineration. We have organic growing systems here, and down out of Georgia and Alabama, Perdue is pelleting poultry litter and this retains all of the nutrients and its organic. If theres 50,000 tons of excess or 100,000 tons, we can do this to get rid of the litter problem. If they are trucking litter in here from 150 miles in here, then why cant we truck it 150 miles out of here? Because when you go four miles north of Dobson, from there, all the way through southwest Virginia, theres not any poultry houses. So if we are having a litter problem, then why arent we doing something that is better for the environment that incineration of poultry litter. Why dont we truck it to where the litter is needed instead of incinerate it? said Guyer.
Hunter said he would be in support of Guyers idea.
That sounds logical to me. Go for it, Hunter said.
Following the meeting, Hunter said, a pro Fibrowatt Surry County businessman showed up after everybody left and asked to speak to the commissioners. Larry Calloway is a Surry County resident who works for the North Carolina Employment Security Commission in Mount Airy.
He came to let us know he and many others in Surry County support Fibrowatt and the jobs and economic impact it will have, Hunter said.
Vice Chairman Paul Johnson made a motion to hold a public forum on March 26 at 6:30 p.m. to let people from the community voice their concerns about anything in the county they feel needs to be addressed. The meeting was approved by the commissioners.
Contact Mondee Tilley at [email protected] or at 719-1930.

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