Meeting on tobacco burning rescheduled

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 18, 2003

A Monday meeting between the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Biomass Energy of South Point to discuss the company's plans to burn tobacco was rescheduled for March 25.

"Right now, the tobacco shipments have stopped coming in. This was confirmed by the USDA," Clint Shuff, of the Ohio EPA, said. "The attorneys are discussing the date and the agenda. We want to get things ironed out so we can have a productive meeting."

The EPA chose to reschedule the meeting, Mark Harris, CEO of Biomass, said.

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Biomass, located adjacent to The Point industrial park, agreed to destroy 121,408 tons of surplus tobacco for $19.25 a ton for the United States Department of Agriculture, a $2 million deal that will help finance the construction of a new power plant.

However, the plans have been met with more local resistance than expected, based largely on political issues, Harris said.

"We think we certainly have the high ground on the legal issues," Harris said. "I think the Ohio EPA's Solid Waste Division is trying to reclassify the material into something it is not. "

Among the questions the EPA hopes to have answered are, what does Biomass intend to do with the tobacco, why was it already brought in, how will they manage this material and how long will it be lying there, Shuff said.

"From what we understand there is no place in the United States where tobacco is being burned in a biomass facility. This is kind of inventing the wheel," Shuff said. "So they have to demonstrate the technology that shows it can be done cleanly and efficiently."

The idea for the deal was originated from the USDA who contacted eight other plants and is not that unusual because agricultural material is burned in biomass facilities all over the country and the world, Harris said.

Although the issue is still not resolved, South Point Mayor Bill Gaskin was happy to hear that the tobacco shipments have stopped.

"I feel this is a step in the right direction," Gaskin said. "With the EPA involved now, I think it will be resolved to our benefit."

The South Point mayor said one of his biggest concerns is that the property was only recently cleaned from the damage done by South Point Ethanol.

"I am worried that the tobacco is just going to be sitting there," he said. "I do not know how long it is going to be there and I don't think they do either."

Harris said that the company has an area set aside for all their raw fuel storage and is no different than any other agricultural product.

"If you look at every sawmill in the country they have wood and sawdust on the ground," Harris said. "It is a biodegradable material. It is not coal, it is not a hazardous material."

The company's plan is that tobacco will make up about one percent of their fuel supply and will be burned with wood after the company completes a $100 million renovation of its plant that will begin in April and could be completed in 12 to 15 months.