Biomass, EPA to be quizzed

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 4, 2004

SOUTH POINT - Questions are expected to fill the cafeteria, but local leaders hope answers are equally as forthcoming.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency will host a public information session and hearing at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the South Point High School cafeteria to answer questions and accept comments on a draft air permit issued to Biomass Energy LLC.

Biomass CEO Mark Harris said Monday that he plans to attend Thursday's meeting to answer any questions.

Email newsletter signup

Ohio EPA issued a permit in February 2002 that allowed Biomass to burn wood to generate electricity. The new draft air permit would allow the company to modify the seven coal and oil fired boilers to burn 100 percent wood waste, increase the boiler capacity, add an additional natural gas boiler and provide 12 acres of outside storage and handling of the wood products, according to the Portsmouth Local Air Agency.

Biomass, located at 100 Collins Road next to The Point industrial park in the former South Point Ethanol facility, has said the modifications will not significantly change the amount of emissions. The company cannot begin actual modifications until a final permit is issued.

Mayor Bill Gaskin emphasized the importance of Thursday's public meeting that should go a long way towards answering some questions.

"I think we need to check up on them and see what they are burning, how much they are going to be burning and what they are going to be burning it with to see what kind of emissions are going to be coming out of there," he said.

"They are planning on building the schools across the highway from there, so I think they would be concerned about this."

South Point was once the "foggiest place in the state of Ohio" years ago when Allied Chemical was opening, Gaskin said. The mayor said he hopes it won't get to that point again.

"You couldn't see a foot ahead of you some days," he said. "It wasn't all caused by that, but it was pretty bad."

South Point Schools Superintendent Ken Cook agreed that the hearing will be an important exchange of information, but that a lot of plants burn all types of materials with little or no emissions, so he is not overly concerned yet.

"We just want to find out what is going on. Without meeting with them, it is hard to say what it will mean," he said. "We will know more after Thursday."

Harris said the company also plans on setting up a toll-free number

so that anyone can participate in a conference call at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday and speak with a team of experts about any questions they may have. That number 1-877-278-7481, but callers have to dial an access code of 9229961.

The company still plans to conduct a $150 million renovation at the plant. The project was expected to begin later this year and be completed in 15 to 20 months, Harris said.

"Our plant will be the cleanest wood-fired solid fuel power plan in the country," he said. "We are doing things that are unprecedented."

The project will create 40 to 50 permanent jobs, 400 ancillary jobs across Tri-State and 250 to 400 construction jobs during the project. Once the renovations are completed, Biomass will be able to sell about 150 megawatts of electricity – enough to supply 150,000 to 200,000 houses, Harris said.

Much of the negative public sentiment about the company has been generated by a few individuals who have their own agendas, he said.

Written comments may also be sent through May 10 to: Portsmouth City Health Department, Air Pollution, Attention Anne Chamberlin, 605 Washington St., Portsmouth, Ohio 45662.

To review the draft permit and related materials or for more information, contact Chamberlin at (740) 353-5156.

Biomass ran into some problems last year when it tried to accept a $2.33 million deal to destroy 121,448 tons of surplus tobacco for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Ohio EPA halted those plans and Biomass eventually removed all of the tobacco.

Biomass has also applied for a water discharge permit through the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's Southeast District that would allow the company to discharge water that has been used at the plant into the Ohio River, said representatives with the southeast district's Division of Surface Water.

The OEPA issued a public notice of the application on March 23. After 30 days and a comment period, a draft water permit will be issued and it will then go to public comment for approximately 30 days. A public hearing will most likely be held in the future.

Biomass may discharge flows of more than 2.5 million gallons a day, according to the application.

"The water will be cleaner going out than it is coming in," Harris said.

The discharge permit will not allow the company to start construction. Biomass will then have to apply for a permit to install a wastewater collection, treatment and disposal system.