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June 4, 2009 Issue

Coal-fired plant debate continues
Sheriff tells ATV riders to use caution
Working by firelight...

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Coal-fired plant debate continues

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

A 10-member consortium of energy membership cooperatives, Power4Georgians, is looking at Sandersville as a site to construct a coal-fired plant.

The area’s own EMC, Jefferson Energy Cooperative, is not a member of the consortium and has no plans to buy energy from the plant, said Steve Chalker, director of public relations for the cooperative.

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Justine Thompson, executive director of Green Law, and Chandra Brown, a river keeper and executive director of Ogeechee-Canoochee Riverkeeper, presented information about the proposed plant, currently referred to as Plant Washington, to about 20 citizens last month during a public meeting in Louisville.

Currently, there are 10 coal powered plants in Georgia with two more proposed, including the one in Sandersville, Thompson said.

Power4Georgians is currently waiting to hear from the Environmental Protection Division about the proposed plant, said Dean Alford, a spokesperson with the consortium, in a telephone interview Tuesday.

“We filed our application on Jan. 17, 2008, with EPD,” Alford said.

“We filed for all the necessary permits at that time. Back in March of this year, EPD had their first public meetings in Washington County as it relates to the permit application. So we are waiting on a draft permit that we hope to receive in the relatively near future,” he said.

The environmental impact of the plant was a major concern addressed by Thompson and Brown during the meeting.

Thompson said public hearings about the plant should be held in nearby areas so that all citizens who would be affected by the plant could voice their concerns and opinions and ask questions. She said the people wanting to build the plant refused to hold meetings anywhere but Sandersville.

According to information presented during last month’s meeting, Plant Washington will be emitting 1,896 tons of sulfur dioxide annually for 50 years and 1,836 tons of nitrous oxide annually for 50 years.

Thompson said Plant Washington will emit 6 million tons of carbon dioxide every year.

“The same as 1 million new cars. Every year,” she said.

Thompson said the plant will also impact agriculture and forestry because it will create changes in soil characteristics.

“Combustion also uses water. A lot of water used is going to come from the water in your basins,” she said. This use is expected to be 16 million gallons of water every day. The current plan is to have 16 different wells spread out so as to reduce the impact from using just one well. However the overall result will be the same.

Brown said every single drop of water they pull out is not available for other uses.

“Washington County is going to get a lot of jobs, but you’re going to get a lot of pollution,” Thompson said.

Brown said some of the negative impacts from what is called groundwater mining include depletion of groundwater reserves, intrusion of water of undesirable quality and land subsidence.

The result from groundwater usage includes altered natural water levels, loss of aquifer recharge and destruction of critical wildlife habitat.

Another concern Brown mentioned is the effects of mercury. Plant Washington, if permitted, will emit 122 pounds of mercury into the air every year, she said.

Brown said people who are interested in this issue should send letters to the EPD requesting additional public hearings, sign up with the Riverkeepers to collect fish from the Ogeechee River to test for mercury, and become active in the fishing line recycling program.

“The big deal of drinking water for Jefferson County will be the lack of it,” she said.

Power4Georgians spokesman Alford addressed the issue of mercury and said by the time the plant is built there will be less mercury in the area than there is currently.

“The reason is Georgia has one of the most stringent mercury reduction programs in the country,” Alford said. “Either A, they’re ignoring the facts or B, they’re not being completely honest.”

Alford said the amount of water to be used will be an average of 13.5 million gallons.

“Somewhere between 1 and 4 million gallons is returned to the Oconee River and the rest is evaporated as part of the process,” he said.

“It’s not contact water. The water will be returned basically as it came, including the same temperature, the ambient temperature. We’ll basically store the water until it returns to ambient temperature. And when it returns to ambient temperature, we’ll return it back to the river.”

Alford said it is not true they have limited public input to only citizens of Sandersville.

“There’s no truth to that at all,” he said.

“We had many people at the public meeting (in March) from all over the state. In addition, we’ve had public meetings and have not limited (who attends). We’ve had people from as far away as Florida attend,” Alford said.

Alford addressed the issue of where the energy produced will go by saying the energy goes into the grid.

“That energy is a part of the overall power grid,” he said. “Citizens across the state will have the benefit of this power grid.”

He said this is a $2.1 million investment to the community, providing an anticipated 135 jobs at the plant and another 100 jobs in the surrounding 50-mile radius.

Recently, some of the original energy cooperatives decided to end their participation in the building of Plant Washington.

Alford said at press time Tuesday that this will have no effect in the consortium’s plan to build this facility.

“There are six remaining co-ops that are in the program,” he said.

“We had four of them who have decided not to go forward with their participation in Plant Washington. Their reasons are the uncertainty of the regulatory environment in Washington, D.C. Their withdrawal doesn’t impact anything. This plant wasn’t enough to meet everyone’s needs. Plant Washington is not enough to meet all the needs of the six remaining cooperatives. The need for new capacity in the state of Georgia is very significant. We haven’t built a new power facility in 20 some odd years. There is a need for capacity and 850 megawatts is a medium sized facility. It’s not going to meet all the needs going into the future,” Alford said.



Sheriff tells ATV riders to use caution

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Jefferson County Sheriff Gary Hutchins reminds everyone to use care when driving four-wheelers.

“I’ve been having some problems with people and concerns about people getting hurt, riding without helmets, tearing up real estate. I’m all for off-road vehicles, but there’s a law there and they say off road, that means off road,” Hutchins said.

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The law states, in part, “the term ‘off-road vehicle’ means any motorized vehicle designed for or capable of cross-country travel on or immediately over land, water, snow, ice, marsh, swampland, or other natural terrain and not intended for use predominantly on public roads.”

The law also states its purpose is “to promote the safe use of off-road vehicles, to protect the wildlife and natural resources of the state and to guarantee the availability of various forms of recreation to all citizens in an environment of diversity and quality.”

The law requires all peace officers enforce its provisions.

Lt. Garry McCord, a deputy with the JCSO, said most of the people who get hurt on four-wheelers are jumping ramps, tearing up somebody’s property and doing doughnuts on dirt roads.

“These are recreational vehicles,” McCord said. “They’re not cars nor are they motorcycles. There are a lot of folks who are being very responsible about what they do.”

The sheriff pointed out four-wheelers don’t have lights and the owners do not have to get tags for them.

He said his intent is to promote safety.

“My concern is that people are going to get hurt. They’re driving a motor vehicle at the age of 10 or so on a paved road. They don’t realize the danger. They just want to have a good time. I think the parents need to step in and be more knowledgeable about where the children are. The parents need to know where the children are riding,” Hutchins said. “There are consequences of what can happen.”

The sheriff said people should be aware that anyone operating an off-road vehicle without brakes or mufflers or on any private property without the express written permission of the property owner is in violation of current laws.

“We just want to watch out for the safety of our citizens and to protect them,” he said, adding riders should wear helmets, stay off roadways and enjoy using the vehicles.

“That’s what they’re meant to be used for,” he said. “You can’t have 10 or 12 coming down the road. Someone’s going to get hurt. I’m hoping the parents will get more involved, know where their children are when they’re riding these vehicles and have a closer watch.”

Hutchins also advised that young people shouldn’t be riding alone.

“They should be accompanied by an adult over 21,” he said. “It’s fun to ride them in the yard, in a field behind the yard and so on.

“We want people to be able to have a good time. We just want to make certain they’re safe.”



Working by firelight...

Firefighters use a stream of water to knock down the fire on a propane tank during a training exercise in Wadley recently. Both full-time and volunteer firefighters from across Jefferson County participated in the training. They learned how to use different settings on their hoses on the approach to the tank, utilizing a heavy fog to work their way up to the tank and manually shut off the overflow valve. For more photos from this exercise see page 9A.

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