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Residents express concern over waste-to-energy proposal

By Staff | Sep 12, 2016

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Concerned Muncy residents pack the Borough Council chambers last week to learn more about a proposed waste-to-energy incinerator planned for the former Sprout Waldron building located in the Muncy borough.

MUNCY – Residents have been gathering for discussions about their concerns regarding a waste to energy incinerator proposed for the vacant Sprout Waldron Building located in the Muncy Borough.

Delta Thermal Energy Inc. proposed to the Borough of Muncy plans for the possibility of a waste-to-energy business to locate in the Andritz building on Sherman Street.

Residents are expressing concern and outrage that this business would be allowed to locate in a residential section within blocks of both the high school and elementary school. Although the property has been zoned commercial for many years, it lies not only in a residential area but also in a flood plain.

“Powerless” is how borough resident Diana Konkle described her feelings. Another resident, Alan Van Pelt, who told council that he has experience with incinerators in his profession, said that he would move from the borough if the facility is built here.

In late July, Robert Van Naarden and Zane Crowley, of Delta Thermo Energy Inc., (DTE) presented council with their ideas for utilizing the old Sprout Waldron or former Andritz building to house their waste-to-energy business. The process entails taking municipal waste and sewage sludge and turning it into steam for electricity.

At that time, Van Naarden and Crowley assured council the process is environmentally friendly and meets or exceeds all federal Environmental Protection Agency standards.

“They’re concerned with their stockholders, not with the welfare of our kids,” VanPelt said about the for-profit business.

Nella Storm, a former Muncy teacher, agreed. “I don’t want to see your children and grandchildren in harm’s way,” she said. “Look for a different use for that space. It is a danger to the citizens and children. It is not worth it.”

The group expressed fear that the business would be built in spite of their strong objections to the project. Members of council assured the concerned citizens that it is trying to see the pros and cons of the project.

“We certainly didn’t move to this town to have this here,” property owner Bobi Young said. Dan Berninger, who grew up in Muncy, echoed that sentiment.

“It would be pretty close to downtown. It doesn’t tie in with what the town wants to promote,” he said. “Forty percent of the town is in a flood zone. Now you put this here. Who will buy properties?” he asked.

Although the council was informed of the project initially, its involvement is limited to approving a conditional use permit issued by the Zoning Hearing Board provided that the company meets the board’s requirements.

Council was advised by borough solicitor Chris Kenyon that although it does not enter into a contract with the developers, it still plays a role in the process. He told council it can set standards for the project concerning health, safety and welfare, but, if zoning conditions are met and a conditional use permit is issued by the zoning board, council must approve the permit. The site has been zoned industrial since the 1800s. “Certain criteria have to be met,” Kenyon said.

The plant would be located in half of the Andritz building with a vertical gardening business utilizing the other half. That business would be operated by Jason Weisz, who actually owns the building as Catawissa LLC.

Council member Ed Feigles stressed that the process, as presented by DTE, sounds good and if it works as good as the company says it does, it would be an asset to the borough in terms of the expected 30 jobs that would be created. Feigles enumerated the regulations the company would have to meet before a conditional use permit could be granted.

“There are DEP, flood regulations and power generation regulations, and those are big hurdles. There is also the amount of garbage needed to feed the burner. We don’t think that they can do this. The big issue is that it is in a flood plain,” he added.

DTE told council that in order for the plant to operate, 204 tons of fuel or trash would be needed each day. The concern expressed by the citizen’s group is that in order to meet that need, garbage would be brought in from urban areas, increasing the likelihood of heavy traffic from trucks and odor and vermin problems.

“The smell, filth, poison in the air, heavy traffic, isn’t our whole community going to be devalued?” Storm asked council. “Why are we so powerless,” Konkle said, “and yet these are our homes.”

At the present time there is no contract with Muncy for the waste-to-energy plant. Members told the residents that if the project does go forward there will be a series of outreach meetings with the company before the conditional use hearing. Addressing their concerns, council told the members of the group that there is a process that will be followed when and if the company applies for a conditional-use permit to locate its business at the Sherman Street site. FEMA would also be involved because the site is in a flood plain.

Council urged the group to contact the county commissioners with their concerns.

Commissioner Jack McKernan and state Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, were on hand when DTE had made its presentation and urged council to consider it due to the jobs that would be created. They also expressed a concern that the county landfill was running out of space and that the waste-to-energy business would alleviate some of the volume of trash entering the landfill system.

Feigles also suggested that the group contact environmental groups who could do research for them.

A group from council is scheduled to visit DTE’s process model at Trevose, but the only working sites are in Germany and Japan.

“I hope when they get the information they’ll see our side,” Van Pelt said at the conclusion of the discussion.

Once the application is made, a hearing officer is appointed and council becomes the hearing board. Each side would present evidence for its case before council.

Kenyon said that in all likelihood there would be several hearings before council would have to make its decision.

“Evidence is presented to council from either side and council determines the credibility of the evidence,” said Tillie Noviello, council vice president, who presided over the meeting.

“It is purely a decision based on the evidence presented,” Kenyon stressed. “Residents can speak on their own behalf. They are here to present a case,” he added. “You have every right to present evidence.”

Kenyon said several hearings are likely to occur before any decisions are made.

When asked if there is a possibility that the zoning for the proposed site could be changed, Councilwoman Karen Richards urged members of the group to attend the zoning committee meetings in which work is being done on updating the zoning in the borough.

Meetings are held at 2 p.m. on the third and fourth Thursdays of the month at the Borough Building.