09/17/08 — Citizens organize to oppose Fibrowatt

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Citizens organize to oppose Fibrowatt

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 17, 2008 1:41 PM

FAISON -- Residents here say that a lack of information and the failure on the part of Fibrowatt officials to provide suitable answers to questions prompted them to organize against the company's proposed plant at N.C. 403 and Interstate 40 just west of town.

It also has resulted in a complaint being filed with the NAACP.

A letter, that supporters say includes 1,000 signatures, asks Sampson County commissioners to rescind their vote that rezoned Exit 355 as an industrial park. It further implores the county, "do not locate the proposed Fibrowatt waste incineration facility at this location."

The plant would burn poultry litter to generate electricity.

The letter contends that either by "design or accident" the facility would be placed near a "predominately poor and African-American community." The letter adds that the health and well-being of area residents would be "adversely affected" by the anticipated pollution, emissions and traffic.

William H. Frederick Sr., a member of Sampson County Concerned Citizens, which sent the letter, said the area impacted is one that "lacks the ammo to go after" the company. In many cases, the people there are elderly or have health problems, he said.

The Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, said that the group has filed a complaint with the NAACP.

Barber said the NAACP's housing, economic, labor and legal redress committees are conducting an investigation of the complaint.

"We are actively pursuing an investigation of that complaint," Barber said. "When a complaint is filed we take it seriously. We are looking at if the plant will negatively impact minorities or the poor."

He said the Sampson County NAACP chapter already is on record in opposition to the plant.

Barber said the NAACP had been invited to meet with Fibrowatt officials. However, he said there would be no such meeting until the NAACP could bring its own experts.

The next step will depend on the investigation's outcome, Barber said.

Meanwhile, the Town of Faison has yet to receive a response on its latest proposal to Fibrowatt.

"We have not heard from Fibrowatt. We have not heard from Sampson County. We have not heard from anybody," Faison Mayor Elmer Flake said.

Sampson County and the company have asked Faison to surrender its control of the town's zoning authority at the proposed plant site. Although located in Sampson County, the site is part of Faison's extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ).

Flake has said the town has no interest in giving up its ETJ control or its water/sewer system along the Eldon Thornton Road near the site.

Negotiations between the town and Fibrowatt have been ongoing for several months. Flake has declined to discuss any specifics of the negotiations.

It has been more than six weeks since the town floated its last proposal.

According to the letter, four or more multi-million dollar produce and food-distributing companies are located within a three-mile radius of the site. Also within the radius are numerous farms, many of which are organic.

Plant opponents contend that area farmers do not need to sell their poultry waste to Fibrowatt. Rather, they want to use it as crop fertilizer.

While the company claims there is no odor or noise associated with the plant, the group questions the odor and noise associated with the poultry-litter trucks that will travel the area to and from the plant.

The group also questions the fallout from a 350-foot smokestack at the facility. Research, they said, has shown that incinerators generate "particulate matter that results in increase in cancer, birth defects, asthma and others related health problems in the future."

Frederick, whose home is less than two miles from the site, said that opposition to the plant continues to grow.

Williams said the plant had been touted for its potential economic impact and added new jobs.

"The tradeoff is not even," he said. "They (poultry litter plants) have not been up and going long enough to know the effects."

Williams said that the group had been monitoring meetings concerning Fibrowatt.

"We never got any answers," he said. "They would put us on hold and never get back to us. So, we decided to ask among ourselves. We have been meeting to make available an opportunity for people to ask questions."

He said members are researching information on the Internet as well as turning to church and community leaders "who are in the know."

One of those leaders is Stewart Precythe, a fourth-generation farmer and produce company owner.

Precythe, owner of Southern Produce in Faison, has two major concerns -- diverting poultry litter from use as an economical fertilizer and causing harm to what he considers one of the prime Interstate 40 interchanges.

Poultry litter is an inexpensive alternate to fertilizer that continues to go up in price, he said.

He noted that northern Duplin residents have been successful in their own going efforts to keep a multi-state landfill from being built near Calypso.

"If you let another waste facility come in at a major intersection then how many restaurants or motels are going to come," he said. "It (development at the site) could be one of the best sources of revenue in Sampson County," he said.

He called the decision to allow the plant to located there "poor planning" and something that "had not been thought through."

Precythe said he owns about 155 acres of land near the site that he had purchased as an investment.

The site is attractive, he said, because the land is cheap, a major transmission line runs across it and it is centrally located.

Within a three-mile radius of the site are a number of farms and produce operations -- including strawberries and blueberries. Precythe said he has concerns about particulates from the plant's smokestack that might settle on the produce.

In addition, like, Frederick, he is concerned about traffic to the plant.

"It is an accident waiting to happen," he said.