The Transylvania Times -

By Eric Crews
Staff Writer 

Airport Owner Pulls Out Of Biomass Project - Brevard NC

 


Nine months after plans to build a $23 million biomass power plant at the site of the Transylvania Community Airport were announced, Ken Allison, a partner in the proposed facility who owns the airport property, announced he is pulling the plug on the project.

Allison said he notified Renewable Developers, the New York-based developers of the proposed project, that he had decided to not renew an option to sell the 26-acre tract of land to the developers.

“Basically, I don’t want to wait any longer with the uncertainty of the project,” Allison said. “I want to go ahead and move forward with continuing along with running the Transylvania airport as we have it now.”

Allison said the airport would continue to operate as it has been, noting that the airport has been in operation throughout the discussions regarding the bio-mass plant project.

Despite announcing his plans to end any involvement with the biomass project, Allison said he still believes it would have been good for Transylvania County.

“I think it’s a great project,” he said. “It’s a fully regulated industry, and I think a lot of folks got the wrong interpretation and the wrong ideas of what was actually going to happen there. The plant would have actually been cleaner than the airport that currently occupies the land.”

When reached for comment, Matthew Ross, an attorney and partner of Renewable Developers said he is disappointed the proposed project didn’t go as they’d hope, but said he supports Allison’s decision to move forward with his property however he sees best.

“Ken is our friend and partner,” Allison said. “The delay in development has hurt him more than it has us as he was waiting for the sale of his property to realize revenues.”

Ross said when Allison first discussed his future plans with them regarding the airport, they were supportive.

“Although we are a bit disappointed to lose such a great piece of land, we are pleased for Ken,” Ross said.

In the future, Allison said he still hopes to sell parcels of his property as business sites.

“That’s our vision for where we are going with the property,” he said.

Meanwhile, the airport will continue operations.

In April, when the proposal to build the biomass plant was first announced, Allison said there were roughly 47 pilots who kept their planes at the airport.

Since then, Allison said several clients at the airport left, but he hopes news the airport will continue to operate as it has for 13 years will help fill the remaining vacancies.

Mark Burrows, county economic development director, said in April that the loss of the airport would have an impact on some Transylvania County resi-dents and visitors, but wouldn’t be a huge blow to the local economy.

“The airport is significant, particularly in the summertime,” Burrows said in April. “We have the camps here and many par-ents are able to fly either their own planes or they have friends that have planes and are able to fly in and drop off their children for summer camps. We also have a number of retirees who are able to fly into the airport.

“But the airport was never able to reach its full potential for a number of reasons.”

Among the challenges the airport has faced over the years was an eight-year legal battle between the owners of the Transylvania County Airport and one of their neighbors that was settled out of court in 2009.

Biomass Opposition

The proposed power plant, a pyrolysis gasification facility designed to convert municipal solid waste, or trash, into a form of fuel that could be used to power both generators and other internal combustion engines, was opposed by many in the community from the beginning.

Shortly after announcing the project, developers of the proposed biomass power plant faced fierce opposition from a number of county residents who opposed the project for aesthetic and health concerns. At an April event at the county library, Ross presented a preliminary look at the project to a standing room only crowd.

Many of those in attendance wore blue shirts or pinned blue ribbons to their shirts signifying their involvement in People for Clean Mountains, a group organized to oppose the project.

Questions posed to Ross after his 45-minute presentation on the project, ranged from “Why here?” to “What do we have to do to stop this?”

Through it all, Ross attempted to answer the questions, but was often drowned out by audience members who opposed the project on the grounds that it would cause air pollution, destroy the view of the valley and increase the number of trucks using the state-owned highways.

Ross claimed that the proposed power plant was not an incinerator, that it would produce just one-sixth of the Environmental Protection Act’s emission limit, would not use any whole trees for feedstock and that it would bring around 25 jobs to the area, yet he didn’t seem to win much support among the overflow crowd.

In comments made later, Allison said the proposed project would have produced fewer emissions than the planes currently in use at the airport.

In late April, members of People For Clean Mountains made stopping the proposed project their number one priority.

Members of the group organized an Earth Day march through the streets of Brevard to the county library to address the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners.

Many among the group of nearly 200 bore signs opposing the project with slogans such as, “Waterfalls not garbage hauls,” “Don’t trash our future” and “No bio-massacre.”

Once the meeting was underway, around 20 people from the overflow crowd voiced their opposition to the project during the two public comment periods.

In the months that followed, the biomass project became a hot topic not only for those in the community, but for the commissioners, as well, as they grappled with how to respond to opposition to the project, which they had heard about in closed sessions for around two years.

County Manager Artie Wilson said the project had changed dramatically in its scope since they first heard of the developer’s intentions.

“Where this project has ended up today is entirely different than where that process began,” Wilson said at an April commis-sioner meeting.

The project was initially designed to use wood as a feedstock and produce biofuels, Wilson said. However, by March, when the developers filed permit applications with the state, the plan was to build a plant that would use municipal solid waste to produce 33,400 megawatts of electricity.

Efforts by People For Clean Mountains to halt the project continued in May when around 100 people gathered at the Little River Community Center for a question and answer session with members of People For Clean Mountains, Commissioner Page Lemel and Allison.

At that meeting, Allison announced plans to further develop the 58-acre airport property site.

One potential business with eyes on the Penrose Commercial Park, according to Allison, was a Japan-based manufacturer of pyrolysis reactors that would create 20 to 23 jobs.

“We’re thinking it is going to bring in more manufacturing in the area,” Allison said.

At the meeting, Allison said he looked forward to reviewing the engineering plans and other factual data in the coming weeks that would help him decide if the project would in fact be good for Transylvania County.

“I’m not too sure I buy into all of the environmental issues and all of the problems,” he said. “I will wait and see the engineering reports that will be out in less than a month… I personally, don’t want to make a mistake either.”

At that meeting, Allison said success of the project depended largely on tax credits that are set to expire at the end of 2013.

If the project was not underway by the end of the year, Allison said it would likely fail.

Gaining those tax credits became much more difficult for the developers to achieve when county commissioners voted 3-2 in July to impose a one-year-long moratorium on the development of any biomass projects in Transylvania County in an effort to further study the potential impacts of the project.

The commissioners are currently discussing options to regulate the biomass industry, as well as other high impact land use industries, within the coun-ty. A decision on how they’ll move forward with that could come as early as January.

Kevin Glenn, chairman for People For Clean Mountains, declined to comment at this time.

 
 

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