Fertilizer Plant hearing draws attendees but few permit-related comments

Spencer County Leader ~ Tuesday May 21, 2013

by Dean Bolin

REO - Over 250 people stood or sat in South Spencer High School's auditorium on Wednesday, May 15. The crowd of supporters and opponents came to voice opinions concerning Ohio Valley Resources LLC's (OVR) air permit application for a fertilizer plant to be built near Rockport. Air permit applicants held the hearing to address specific questions regarding the application; however, the hours of public questions and official comments rarely addressed the actual permit except in introductory remarks. Instead, the public wanted to talk about other issues, most outside the control or purview of the state agency. Some off-topic issues were understandable, given recent events. In light of the fertilizer explosion in Texas, concerns about the chance for explosions at the proposed plant were voiced often. Ohio Valley Resources CEO Doug Wilson attempted to assuage those fears. "It should be noted," said Wilson, "Ohio Valley Resources will not be producing AN, ammonium nitrate." That is the dry, granular fertilizer product whose combustible nature played a role in the Texas incident. The plant will create the wet version, urea ammonium nitrate (68%), which is neither flammable nor explosive said Wilson. The plant would also make diesel emission fuel (DEF), which is also neither flammable nor combustible. The third product, anhydrous ammonia, is not combustible except under very high temperatures (1,200 degrees). More importantly, the permit Wilson sought does not include specifications for the granular version and the permit would not allow it to be produced at the plant. Wilson said he met with state local emergency management and government officials on April 26, shortly after the Texas incident, to discuss the plant's products and the difference between the proposed plant and what was in Texas. The plant, he said, will meet and exceed safety and environmental state and federal requirements with state-of-the-art emission controls.

Supporters - Supporters had the easier task, as what they wanted was IDEM to approve the permit. The major reason given for the plant was jobs, the slogan being "Issue the permit and build it." County councilman Bill Spaetti gave other reasons for his support. "I use every product that Mr. Wilson will make," said Spaetti. Describing local transportation shortages resulting in fertilizer shortages, he said, "the trucks can't physically bring it in fast enough." The plant would reduce local transportation costs for farmers and increase county assessed value which will help lower tax rates, benefitting schools and libraries. Supporters included Lincolnland Economic Development, county and Rockport officials and unions involved in plant construction.

Opponents - Opponents had the tougher job at the hearing, asking the permit be denied or, alternately, seeking further review or impose additional requirements. Even though opponents held a closed door meeting at the Rockport Comfort Inn a few days earlier, they failed to address the actual purpose of the hearing. Instead, the resulting comments were mostly off-topic, even ignoring the environmental concerns they claimed to be their main focus. They used their comments to bash Spencer County. Tom Utter of Lincolnland Economic Development Corporation received particular vitriol, with a number of people asking if there was any polluting company he would not invite into the county. Intimations were made of Mr. Wilson's financial solvency, but no evidence was offered concerning the assertions. Moving closer to actual environmental concerns, opponents spent much time claiming Spencer County was toxic and the most polluted community in the world. One new to the debate would have to wait hours before hearing this assertion is based on Toxic Inventory Release (TRI) numbers. Those numbers were not entered into the record. A few came close at times, but missed opportunities to effect some changes. Chuck Botsko of Gentryville inquired during the non-record question section about county air monitors, chances for more or re-positioning of the devices. However, during the recorded comment section, the suggestion, which IDEM could have considered, was omitted from his comments except thanking him for the earlier information. He criticized IDEM for only addressing air quality issues, not risk management concerns, but failed to address the issue on the record. Botsko's comments were the rarity. Other comments included lamenting the nation's "flawed food system," mountaintop removal in Eastern Kentucky and the need for more conservative environmentalism. These were tossed out and then dropped. Most disheartening were the numerous references made by opponents of not looking at the documents which have been available since last fall. Many remarks revealed that the one page summary of the permit provided at the hearing was also not read. IDEM officials said a final decision on the permit could be made in two or three months.