Residents Voice New Concerns on Gainesville, FL Biomass Incinerator

-  by Morgan Watkins, August 5, 2014, Gainesville Sun

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"235","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 225px; height: 154px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","title":"Photo: State of Florida"}}]]Local residents worried about the biomass plant showed up Tuesday evening for a public meeting on its draft Title V air operation permit, which could be approved this fall, to make their concerns known.

Folks milled around the Hall of Heroes Community Room at the Gainesville Police Department on Northwest Eighth Avenue, talking over the issues with fellow residents as well as with Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials who were on hand to answer questions.

Several people submitted written comments to the FDEP at the meeting, which was styled as an open house, although others stopped by a table in an adjacent room to give verbal comments instead.

The Gainesville Renewable Energy Center has applied to the FDEP for the five-year permit, which would be effective Jan. 1. This would be its initial Title V permit.

The biomass plant drew complaints of noise, odor and dust issues in the past from residents of the Turkey Creek Golf & Country Club, while government employees who work nearby at Alachua County's Public Works facility complained about odor and dust problems as well.

Some measures were taken to improve conditions, such as installing acoustic panels in the stack to cut down on noise.

Turkey Creek resident Larry Noegel came to Tuesday's meeting because he still has concerns about the plant even though the noise problems that troubled him a while back have been resolved.

“For three months, we could not even use our bedroom for the noise,” he said. “They took care of the noise in December of last year, but for three months they did nothing except say we were a nuisance.”

Odor can still be an issue at times depending on the wind, rain and so on, he said, calling the stench out there “terrible.”

Noegel, 69, moved to Turkey Creek in 2007 and planned to retire there, but he said he would sell his house right now if he could because of the biomass plant.

“My house is, to be exact, 3,025 feet from the stack itself,” he said.

Noegel said GREC hasn't been honest with him and his fellow residents.

“From the get-go, we have been lied to,” he said.

John Brushwood, GREC's communications director, said the noise and odor issues some residents have raised don't really pertain to the Title V permit but are still taken seriously.

In attaining a Title V permit, Brushwood said GREC is going from a construction air permit to its final operational permit.

Upon receiving this permit, GREC will be in full compliance with the required federal and state regulations on air emissions, he said, although GREC is actually already in full compliance with air emissions requirements.

No facilities in Florida, to their knowledge, have ever had their Title V permit rejected by FDEP, he said.

December and Lee McSherry, who have a farm near Archer, came to Tuesday's meeting to offer their concerns about the Title V permit.

Lee McSherry said the biomass plant wasn't necessary and will make people who breathe in the pollution from the plant sick, especially vulnerable populations like children and the elderly. He called it an “ethical failure.”

December McSherry said they have used wood chips like the plant uses as fertilizer for their farm, and the wood piles contained bits of tire, plastic jugs and other materials.

She said she is asking them to monitor for hazardous air pollutants, such as those from burning plastic, as well as to require records of the wood fuel sources the plant uses and their contents.

Barbara Sharpe, a former Alachua County School Board member and Gainesville resident, said Tuesday that the Title V permit is “seriously flawed” and needs improvements.

It should be amended to require testing to prevent the use of toxic and hazardous fuels, she said.

Sharpe also pointed out that the permits GREC already has need to be enforced before it's issued any more.

“GREC needs to really be monitored because I don't believe that you can trust them to do what is right as far as all of the complaints people have given so far,” she said. “There needs to be accountability.”

Jeff Koerner with the FDEP's Division of Air Resource Management told The Sun there was an initial 30-day public comment period regarding the proposed permit during which around 40 people submitted comments, some of whom requested Tuesday's public meeting.

The next step is to compile all the comments received. If there are no substantial changes to the permit requiring a new draft, the proposed permit will be sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a 45-day review period.

After the EPA's review, the state DEP can issue a final Title V permit that would then need to be renewed every five years, Koerner said. It's typical for the EPA to say it doesn't have any comments.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 ormorgan.watkins@gainesville.com.