09/28/08 — Fibrowatt official responds to criticism

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Fibrowatt official responds to criticism

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 28, 2008 12:21 AM

Terence Walmsley, Fibrowatt vice president for environmental and public affairs, last week expressed surprise that Faison area residents feel the company has failed to address their questions and concerns.

"Frankly, I take offense at that they say we have not been there to answer questions," he said. "We have been surprised when we come to people and they don't have questions or they don't feel they should be asking questions. So I am a little mystified."

Walmsley was responding to a recent News-Argus article in which a spokesman for a group opposed to Fibrowatt's plans to build in his community said the company had failed to address concerns of area residents. A portion of the site is inside the town's extra-territorial jurisdiction.

Fibrowatt plans to build a $200 million facility in Sampson County at the Interstate 40 and N.C. 403 interchange about three miles west of Faison. The plant would burn poultry litter to generate electricity. It is expected to open about 2012.

In the article residents expressed concerns about the odor, emissions and truck traffic associated with the plant. They also raised questions about diverting poultry litter from its use as a cheap fertilizer.

A letter from the group, Sampson County Concerned Citizens, raised the specter of race by saying that either by "design or accident" the facility would be placed near a "predominately poor and African-American community." The NAACP has initiated an investigation.

"The NAACP caught our attention because that is another group of people we were surprised when it came to be an issue because we have been so open with the community. Maybe we don't always understand local demographics, but I was a little surprised in light of meetings with local property owners," Walmsley said.

He said NAACP officials have been invited to tour the Fibrowatt facility in Minnesota -- its first in the United States.

Walmsley said the Sampson County site was ideal because of the nearby Interstate 40, a power transmission line and because of the few residents who live near the site.

The site was considered because of the "very minimum residential impact" the plant would have.

"If we missed a particular subgroup of people it would surprise me, but maybe we did," he said.

Walmsley said the company had met with property owners and the general public. He said he had attended public meetings to answer questions and had left stacks of his businesses cards and told people to call him.

Walmsley said the company is looking at opening an office in Faison to be more accessible to the public. Also, Greg Thornton of Clinton is the company's liaison with Sampson County. He may be reached at 910-214-6359.

The next step, Walmsley said will be the formation of a citizens' advisory panel. He also said he has contacted local pastors to see if he could speak to their congregations.

"What we are doing is taking a resource like you would if you have a wood-fired biomass plant. We don't dispose of it (litter). It is treated like a fuel," he said. "It burns clean."

He explained that the plant uses state-of-the-art emissions control and what people can expect to see coming from the 300-foot smokestack at the plant will be steam and will be constantly monitored.

He also said that local farmers should not be concerned about the loss of litter as an economical fertilizer, explaining that they only burn the excess farmers sell them. Additionally, he said, the ash from the plant also can be used as a nutrient.

Addressing other concerns, he said there should not be a problem of with the odor as the trucks are tightly covered while in transit, unloaded in enclosed areas and then disinfected.

Walmsley also said a company-conducted traffic study indicated that about 50-60 percent of trucks will enter the site directly from the interstate, limiting the amount of traffic on local roads, particularly through Faison.

He also discounted comments that the plant would discourage development of what many sees as prime real estate.

"It is a power plant," he said. "It is large. But there are significant buffers available. I do not think it would impede development."

Walmsley said the company had wanted to locate the plant as close to the road as possible to minimize cost. But doing so has meant that a portion of the plant would be inside Faison's ETJ and zoning authority.

However, for simplicity in financing the project, it is best for it to be subject to just to one zoning authority, so, he said that the company has been working with Sampson County to come up with an alternate location on the site.