Residents voice Indeck concerns
By By JAN GRIFFEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Niles residents had the opportunity to voice opposition Wednesday night to a request by Indeck Energy for an air permit to construct and operate a gas-fired electricity generating plant in Niles Industrial Park.
Michigan Department of Environment Quality officials conducted the hearing at Niles High School's cafeteria. About 42 residents attended and 13 spoke in opposition of the issuance of the air permit.
Indeck was granted a permit for its plant here, however, it expired when Indeck failed to construct the facility within 18 months of its issuance.
The cost of natural gas, which will be used to fire the plant, as well as other economic woes, have prevented the company from moving forward with construction of the plant here, Indeck officials have said.
Residents at Wednesday's hearing voiced concerns about a number of environmental issues they say the plant will cause here, or cause existing environmental problems to worsen.
Of primary concern for residents who spoke Wednesday is the expected "non-attainment" designation Berrien and Cass counties should receive in April when the federal Clean Air legislation goes into effect.
Vinson Hellwig, chief of the Michigan DEQ's air quality division, said right now the area is considered "in attainment" and it's under those rules and regulations that Indeck's air permit request will be considered.
Nelson Slavik of Niles questioned why, when the non-attainment designation is expected quickly, the DEQ would not wait until those new guidelines for air quailty are in place before making its decision on the Indeck air permit request.
The DEQ officials at Wednesday's hearing did not respond to questions from those who spoke at the hearing.
Jeff Sallak of Niles pointed to a recent news article in which U.S. Rep. Fred Upton warned that the non-attainment designation in Berrien and Cass counties will likely mean the vehicles of residents here may have to undergo environmental testing or modification.
Sallak later questioned why the DEQ was holding the hearing, when "it's not going to matter anyway. The city fathers have already made their decision. This seems to be a waste of everyone's time.
Howard Township farmer Larry Eckler questioned whether the air pollutants generated by other area power plants built since Indeck's original air permit request will be factored into the decision of granting this air permit for Indeck.
Eckler also said he thinks natural gas prices and supplies will be negatively effected by the Indeck plant and other similiar plants.
Barbara Green of Howard Township, Niles, questioned whether Indeck would be allowed to purchase air quality credits from other manufacturers here which would allow it to operate above established air quality standards.
Mary Ann Slavik of Niles also expressed concern about the impending non-attainment designation for air quality here, as well as complained about insufficient notice about Wednesday's hearing in the Niles Daily Star.
Barbara Cook of Pokagon Township, Niles, is concerned Indeck's need for huge amounts of water for cooling at its proposed Niles plant will put in danger the quality and quantity of groundwater here. "Farmers need that water for irrigation here. If Indeck has priority, what does that do to the farmers," she questioned.
Cook also questioned how Indeck's operation would effect the St. Joseph River and ecosystems within it. "Will it raise the temperature of water in the river?" Cook asked.
Diana Blackburn of Howard Township, Niles, said she is concerned what air pollution caused by the Indeck power plant would mean to the quality of life for children and senior citizens.
Indeck officials have said pollutants will be released high enough in the atmosphere for them to be dispersed at levels not to cause harm to air quality here.