Groups assail Fibrowatt proposal

First Posted: 5/11/2009

ELKIN Opponents of the proposed Fibrowatt plant gathered Monday night to hear a presentation by representatives of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and the Center for Health, Environment & Justice on the potential effects of a proposed Fibrowatt energy plant on air quality and public health in the region.
The plant, which is planned to be built near Elkin, would use chicken waste and other bioproducts to generate electricity.
Sam Tesh, who helped moderate the forum, told the group This is an information meeting, not a debate meeting, and much of the meeting took on the air of a simple lecture, until several people in the audience began accusing Fibrowatt of trying to hoodwink the public into thinking the plant was a done deal, and no amount of opposition could change plans by Surry County to allow the plant to build.
That prompted Fibrowatt officials to respond those charges were not true, and they went on to question the credentials, methodology, conclusions and assertions made by Zeller and Lester.
Zeller said he began taking an interest in developments such as Fibrowatt in the early-to-mid 1980s, when the community he lived in was faced with a proposed waste site being situated. In the case of Fibrowatt and the conclusions he shared Monday night, Zeller detailed the steps that went into developing a computer model of what area residents could expect from Fibrowatt.
Lester, a scientist with several masters degrees, stated he provides technical assistance to grassroots community organizations.
What Im here to do tonight is to give you an overview of incineration and what you can expect, said Lester. One of the drawbacks incinerating poultry waste, Lester said, was the lack of knowledge.
Fibrowatt will not know what the chemical composition will be in the chicken litter it burns, he said. Lester also pointed out that there was a significant difference between what is studied inside and outside laboratory settings. Once you leave the lab and go out into the real world, all bets are off, he said. Incinerators cannot achieve in practice what it can control in the lab.
Yet at his summarization, Lester said that with all the data, there are no right answers, as to whether a plant such as Fibrowatt would be damaging to the environment, or whether that would be balanced by additional jobs and tax bas. He said that much of what is concluded is subjective.
The bottom line is, it is more art than science, Lester said.
When Tesh invited questions from the audience, a key concern voiced was whether all this effort was a matter of too little, too late.
Im not here to say to you we can stop Fibrowatt, said Janet Marsh, with Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, but she then indicated that could be done. We have taken on several dangerous incinerator fights and, to date, have not lost a case.
Lester urged on the audience. He stated an objective of Fibrowatt was to convince people a decision was made and was irreversible.
Its never too late until it starts to build, he said. Dont let anybody tell you it’s a done deal. Its not a done deal.
That prompted Terry Walmsley, Fibrowatts vice president of public relations and environmental affairs, to speak up, countering that Fibrowatt was done nothing that could be interpreted as trying to hoodwink the public. He outlined some of the process of getting approval, and how the company had always welcomed input from the community.
Walmsley questioned Zellers background and the model he used in arriving at conclusions of how much damage such a plant could do to the environment.
Michael Freeman, director of business development for Fibrowatt, challenged assertions made by Lester, particularly that of the use of ash that resulted as a result of incineration.
Earlier, Lester questioned the wisdom of using ash that had not been measured for heavy metal content. When challenged by Freeman, Lester said he felt it was incumbent upon Fibrowatt to test the ash, something he said the company had failed to do at its other facilities.
Then the audience began to demand answers from the Fibrowatt representatives. A woman who claimed she would live approximately half a mile from the proposed facility and already had health issues asked Walmsley how her health would be affected. His response was there could be no way to tell, any more than how an automobile driving down the road would affect her health.

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