12/07/08 — Faison opposes Fibrowatt plant

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Faison opposes Fibrowatt plant

By Steve Herring
Published in News on December 7, 2008 2:00 AM

FAISON -- Months of negotiations between the town and officials of a Pennsylvania-based company that plans to build a $140 million poultry litter-fueled power plant just west of town have gone up in smoke.

The town last month effectively broke off what had become one-way talks when the town board voted unanimously to oppose the Fibrowatt plant that actually will be built in neighboring Sampson County.

"The board of commissioners reconsidered its earlier position and elected to withdraw its previous offers and went on record opposing it," Mayor Elmer Flake said.

The vote, however, has apparently not slowed the company's plans.

Fibrowatt has signed a formal economic development agreement with Sampson County that sets forth terms for the purchase of the plant site as well as other items such as road access and water and sewer supply.

A portion of the site located near Interstate 40 exit 355, about three miles west of Faison, falls within the town's extra- territorial jurisdiction. The town has refused to surrender its control over the area, but had been in negotiations with Fibrowatt for several weeks in an attempt to resolve the issue.

In the meantime, Fibrowatt officials have indicated they were looking at ways to reposition the plant so that the Faison ETJ could be avoided.

The town, through its attorney, has informed Fibrowatt of the board vote.

But like the board's last proposal, the vote has generated no response from the company, Flake said.

"We have received nothing from them," Flake said. "We have heard nothing from them. We know nothing. I wish I could tell you more, but right now that is all that I know."

The board's vote followed a closed session held earlier this month. Prior to the vote, commissioners heard from a group of local residents opposed to the plant.

The vote joins the town to a list of opponents to the plant that include two locally organized groups, one from Duplin County and the other based in Sampson County.

The state NAACP also became involved after Sampson County Concerned Citizens sent letters to local, state and national leaders voicing opposition to the plant citing health and traffic concerns. The letter contends that by "design or accident" the facility would be placed near a "predominately poor and African-American community."

Additionally, Citizens for a Safe Environment, the Duplin County group, has filed a lawsuit contending that that Sampson County commissioners' decision to rezone the property was "arbitrary and capricious, contrary to law and in a manner that was an abuse of discretion and made with disregard for the due process and equal protection rights of the petitioners."

It also alleges that attempts to obtain public records regarding the county's recruitment efforts toward Fibrowatt have been "unduly delayed."

Along with contesting the rezoning, the group alleges that residents in northeast Sampson County and northern Duplin County will be adversely affected by the plant because of "noxious odors, toxic emissions, increased truck traffic on rural roads and highways, the loss of the use and enjoyment of their property, the loss of property values and interference with their health, safety and general welfare."

Terry Walmsley, Fibrowatt vice president for environmental and public affairs, has explained that one reason the site was selected was because it has few residents. Other reasons are because of its topography, a utility transmission line crossing the site, highway access and an abundant supply of nearby poultry litter, he said.

Fibrowatt officials also have said they expect the plant (to be identified as the FibroCoast Biomass Power Plant) will support nearly 100 new jobs and contribute upwards of $10 million a year to the regional economy.