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Community has questions about Biomass plans but get no answers

SOUTH POINT - A public information session/hearing regarding Biomass Energy LLC left South Point community leaders

with lots of questions but no answers.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency hosted a public hearing Tuesday to discuss the draft air permit that Biomass is seeking for a proposed $200 to $300 million project to renovate the former South Point Ethanol plant into an operable electricity manufacturer.

The purpose of the hearing was to accept oral and written comments for the official record, thus allowing residents to have input in the Ohio EPA's decision making process.

Kevin Johnson, of the Ohio EPA, moderated the session and said that the EPA will review and respond to comments and use those comments to make changes if necessary. Written comments will be accepted until Friday.

"Then, we make our final decision," Johnson said. "This is part of our process where we are looking for public input."

The new draft air permit would allow Biomass to burn wood waste to generate the power for the electricity plant the company announced plans for last year. As part of those renovations, Biomass would modify boilers to burn 100 percent wood waste consisting of mostly sawdust and small wood chips.

Ohio EPA staff was not able to answer questions during the hearing, but those who had questions were instructed to phrase their comment in the form of a question and the agency would address their concern in writing.

"I think most people came to the meeting to find out what is going on," South Point Mayor Bill Gaskin said. "That's why I came."

Gaskin came with questions about how Biomass will affect the community. Such as how many trucks will Biomass be bringing into town, and what hours do they intend to operate, how much mess?

"The only hope that we have is that Biomass does what it's supposed to do," Gaskin said.

The meeting also left others with unanswered questions regarding the project.

"It's difficult to comment when we have questions and can't ask them," South Point Village Councilman David Classing said. "The last six to seven years we've been six months from construction. How long are these permits good for?"

Mark Harris, Biomass CEO, said that assuming they get the air permit finalized, Biomass hopes to break ground in January and be operational by October 2007.

If approved, new proposals would double the number of jobs created to 100.