The Transylvania Times -

Commissioners OK Moratorium 3-2 - Brevard NC

 

Last updated 7/24/2013 at Noon

A packed Transylvania County Courthouse came out Monday for the moratorium vote. (Times photos by Eric Crews)

Cindy Cathcart thanked Transylvania County commissioners Monday for spending time researching the proposed biomass plant project in Penrose and developing the moratorium.

Commissioners Mike Hawkins, Page Lemel and Larry Chapman supported the moratorium motion, while Commissioners Jason Chappell and Daryle Hogsed voted against.

Commissioners ultimately voted on an expanded moratorium recommended by People For Clean Mountains at the July 8 public hearing.

Initially, the moratorium was drafted specifically to address the proposed biomass plant’s use of municipal solid waste as a fuel to produce electricity. The broader language included in the revised moratorium was less specific and included any facility generating biomass derived energy products.

Cathcart was one of several who spoke Monday before the vote in a packed Transylvania County courtroom.

She said too many questions still remained to allow the project to move forward without further consideration.

She said the developers’ lack of transparency has been disturbing.

“Peter Byrne (one of the developers) sent you a letter that made it clear that he doesn’t know us,” she said. “To label the nearly 3,000 people of this county who signed the petition asking for the moratorium as a fringe opposition funded by mostly wealthy land owners is laughable. We know who we are; RD Penrose does not.

“The business proposed by RD Penrose may have serious negative consequences to public health, yet they consider community support of medium importance and admit that their financial success relies on tax credits, and have clearly demonstrated they do not know nor do they understand our county or community.”

Cathcart called on commissioners to broaden the language of the moratorium so that “any other biomass industry which uses any type of feedstock to produce energy or uses proven, unproven or yet to be developed technology that sets their sites on our county be mandated to adhere to a period of time that will afford us ample time to determine whether that business will help or harm our community.”

David Bradford said he is extremely baffled when people describe Transylvania County as a distressed community.

“I don’t see it that way,” he said. “That misperception opens us up to people who come here not because of our strengths but because of what they perceive are our vulnerabilities.”

Bradford said it is true that the county lost the plants that made it an economic success for decades.

As a result, he said, over the years the community has misdirected its anger at the commissioners, county staff and others as they come to terms with the loss of industry.

“It’s time we work together to equip the people of this county with a functioning fishing pole, so to speak, so that we are no longer vulnerable to those who come here to figuratively and literally poison our fish,” he said. “Many of us remember the good old days. I’m happy to say that I think the best days are still ahead of us.”

Parker Platt, who would be a close neighbor to the proposed project if it moves ahead, said his position has evolved since he first learned about it, but he said that it is important to remember that everyone in the county is actually a neighbor to the proposed biomass plant.

“Most of my concerns about this project have developed along the lines of our community,” he said. “These developers seem to have very little interest in who we are as a community. The plans have changed a lot before this was released and very little information has been forthcoming, and, frankly, they’ve shown very little respect for us.

“We deserve and should demand more from developers like these folks who want to bring this kind of project to our community.”

Platt said the economic development challenges facing the county are great in regards to high impact industry, land use issues and overall economic development.

“I really hope that the ultimate outcome that will be left after this unfortunate mess passes us is that this was the catalyst that brought us together and moved us positively toward the future,” he said.

Platt said that while he is not a member of People For Clean Mountains, he said the group should be applauded for its efforts.

“They worked very hard to bring the community together,” he said. “I think they’ve been very respectful. They’ve worked to educate themselves and to inform others, and I believe they represent a very broad cross-section of our community and that they are us. By no means are they a ‘fringe opposition group.’”

Jim Reynolds, a professor at Brevard College and spokesperson for the Pisgah Chapter of the Sierra Club, recalled that early in the process, after studying the proposed plant for weeks, the Sierra Club of Pisgah Forest came out in tacit support for the stance of the “fringe group.” Now, he said the local chapter of Sierra Club is glad to throw its “full weight with People For Clean Mountains.”

In public comment at the end of the meeting, Kevin Glenn thanked commissioners for a “heck of a ride” over the course of the past four months.

“Thank you very much,” he said. “You also will probably be on the cover of every environmental justice newsletter in the next month. What you’ve done in the last four months is representing us. From public notification to passage of a moratorium, it has never been done this fast. I thank you for that and the community as well.”

With the passage of the moratorium, he said, the work of the county is not yet done.

He said People For Clean Mountains would be drafting a polluting industries ordinance in the coming year and look at alternative industries that could be beneficial to the county.

Furthermore, on Aug. 8, the group will be hosting an event to address the problem of trash.

Commissioner Comments

Commissioner Larry Chapman talked about the former Ecusta and DuPont plants, saying that while there were many positive benefits to the plants, there were also negatives.

Chapman said a lot of the people in the room “probably wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those plants” and said a lot of the people in the area received an education because of the income provided through the plants.

He said the county has benefited substantially over the years from having the plants, noting that the taxes from the plants helped build many of the county-owned buildings.

But he said the plants weren’t without detractions.

“There are very few, if any, industries that are totally what you would call ‘clean,’” he said. “We just have to be diligent in determining what those are and what is best.”

Chapman said the county faces a number of issues, one of which is the cost of maintaining a landfill.

“What do we do with the mountains of garbage that we generate?” he asked. “One of the items on the agenda will be our new landfill permit, which will be for another five years. We in this country can’t stop burying our waste, so we’ve got to look at different technologies. Is this the one? I don’t know enough about it to say.”

He said he supported the moratorium to get the technical information about the project.

“I’m not voting for this as a way to kill this project,” he said.

While he said they have been assured they would get further information from the developers, they have yet to receive any. He said without that information he could not support the project.

“This is kind of the last shot over the bow,” he said. “If they are serious about this, then we have got to have information. It is nothing personal against anybody, but we just have no information. I’ve got an open mind and I’m not voting that this kills it by any means. I want to know what their plans are so that we can all get together and decide where to go.”

Chapman said it is important to remember that the proposed project is between a private developer and a private land owner in a county with no zoning restrictions.

He said that while land use planning, which he said is another word for zoning, won’t happen, “tonight, tomorrow or next week,” the county will have to decide how zoning will be used in the future.

While he has been “totally against” zoning, the lack of zoning is “why we are sitting here tonight.”

“We as a community have got to decide if it is time to review this and look at it,” he said, calling on the citizens to help guide the process when it comes up in the future.

Commissioner Daryle Hogsed said he agrees with much of Chapman’s commentary.

He said it is the duty of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate environmental issues; however, the developers have yet to provide any information that would allow those agencies to vet the project out.

“On numerous occasions, we’ve asked for additional information and been promised additional information from these developers and they’ve followed through on none of it,” he said.

Hogsed said that because, to his knowledge, there is only one other facility of this type in the entire world that is located in South Korea, it begs the question, “Why are they choosing Transylvania County?”

“It prompts a lot of questions to which we haven’t had answers,” he said. “When I ran for office both times I promised that I’d preserve the uniqueness of Transylvania County. I can’t preserve the uniqueness of Transylvania County if I have no idea what a proposed developer is going to bring into this county.”

While he said he could support the first moratorium with more narrowly worded language, he could not support the moratorium with broader language because of the precedent it would set.

“I believe we need more time in order to study what we are letting in, but I would support the first moratorium with the more narrowly worded language,” he said.

Chappell said he has concerns about moratoriums in general and the precedent it could set. He also took issue with the developers themselves.

“We have asked for information repeatedly and have been promised that but have not received anything,” he said. “But I believe part of the education process and the due diligence process is going to be through DENR and the EPA. That’s why those regulations and procedures are in place.”

He said he was concerned the moratorium could set a bad precedent and could be expanded to other industries in the county in the future.

“I have concerns about this motion,” he said.

Lemel, who said she put “an awful lot of time and energy into this issue,” said it is important to remember that the county and community are working together to figure out “who we are and what we want.”

“The lack of information on this particular issue from the developers is, essentially, just flat out appalling,” she said. “We’ve received a lot of information about unnamed partners and everything else. I’m very comfortable with moving forward with the moratorium because I think we as a community need a longer period of time to figure out what is involved with something like this.

“I think it does beg a larger question, ‘What kind of industries are we willing to tolerate in Transylvania County?’”

She said she believes if the county had been working with “an entity that was more forthcoming, responsive and more willing to treat us as functioning human beings then I think I would be more willing to pay more attention to it.”

Lemel didn’t back off comments she made at a Little River meeting about the project where she described the developers as “boys,” saying again she’d be willing to talk “when they grow up.”

At the Little River meeting, Lemel said, “when these boys grow up and figure out what they are doing, then we will seriously entertain a conversation as to what we need to do at that point.”

As an engineer, Lemel said she would be embarrassed to generate the recent letter from Peter Byrne if she were trying to justify a project.

“I’m very comfortable with this moratorium and I’m very comfortable in watching government respond to its citizens,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons that I ran for this office and I continue to be very committed to listening to the people. I think your voices have been heard. I think you’ve done it in a constructive way and I think it is our obligation as your elected officials to carry forward with something that means so much to so many of our citizens.”

Hawkins complimented the public and the groups that have formed in the past three months, saying, “In my mind the moratorium is completely appropriate.”

He said other projects could arise in the future that could fall under the guidelines of this moratorium. The moratorium will help ensure commissioners and county staff get all the information they need to make a decision on any project that could negatively affect the citizens of the county.

“What we are doing here is exercising an abundance of caution,” he said. “As a practical matter, it could be that the larger challenge would not be on the local level but would be on the state level with the state regulatory process.”

Hawkins said talks with officials from state agencies made it clear that the developers would be facing a very “rigorous and long-lasting permitting process.” He said that process has not even started yet.

He said he feels it is appropriate to move ahead with the moratorium so that the county could take a look at this project “in a systematic way.”

 
 

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