Coal-fired plant controversy continues in Early County - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Coal-fired plant controversy continues in Early County

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By Len Kiese - bio | email

BLAKELY, GA (WALB) - Plans to build a controversial coal-fired power plant in Early County are back on track. A judge halted the $2-billion project because of concerns over carbon dioxide emissions but the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the ruling this month.

Before Longleaf Energy LLC can get a new permit due to new regulations, the Environmental Protection Division must get the public's input. Dozens of people turned out for the hearing at Early County High School.

The stickers on many shirts said "EPD Protect Me" and they all had one question--is it worth it? "A lot of times it's the things you can't see that really hurt you," said Lynn Henley.

Henley is one of several people opposed to a coal-fired power plant in Early County. She says her family endured years of health problems by living close to a coal plant in the northern part of the state. They moved to South Georgia. "I feel like this hell is following us. I can't believe that people are even considering having this. They need to wake up," said Henley.

"This plant will emit 9-million tons of carbon dioxide," said Friends of the Chattahoochee President Bobby McLendon.

The Friends of the Chattahoochee is an environmental group that is also against the plant. "All together," said McLendon, "even if it was coaling like they do in the Appalachian mountains, that's enough for me to be opposed to it."

The main concern for many is the environment and those who live in it.  They feel the emissions from the plant will be harmful to the air, water and people's health. "By and large we went through a permitting process and the whole point of that process is to ensure all emissions from the plant are at levels that ensure that public health and the environment is protected," said Longleaf Energy LLC Project Manager Michael Vogt.

Vogt says the building of the plant was not only permitted by Georgia's Environmental Protection Division, but it would also bring economic benefits to Early County. "Primarily from what people tell us here is the ad valorem taxes and the sales taxes that will be generated that's going to go into the school system and county government to help folks here," said Vogt.

The plant is also expected to create jobs. "There will be 100 permanent jobs available at this plant once it's up and operational," said Vogt.

But others say the benefits don't add up.  They hope their actions will put any future talks of coal in the county to rest and prevent Longleaf from coming. "Not if I have anything to do with it they won't," said McClendon.

Henley also plans to continue being vocal with her opposition. "They're coming here to say we're putting this in your backyard but why don't they put it in their own dirty backyard instead of bringing it here?," asks Henley.

Though she and others still have questions, the final answer will come from the EPD.

The public has until August 4th submit comments on Longleaf's permit ammendment.  For information on how to submit your input, visit www.dnr.state.ga.us/environ

The Friends of the Chattahoochee are appealing the Appeals Court decison to the state Supreme Court.   

A non-profit organization says if the plant is built in Early County, it needs to be built by Georgia workers.

Members of Jobs For Georgians held signs outside the plant hearing in Blakely Tuesday night.  The group fights to fill construction jobs on projects across the state with Georgians.

They worry the majority of construction jobs on the coal plant will be filled with out of state workers.

"The project would take about five years for construction. That means five years of employment that Georgians will be missing out on. It also will mean five years of burden on the school systems and the hospital systems because these workers will not have health care coverage," said Allan York with Jobs For Georgians.

The organization says with unemployment in the double digits, more construction jobs would help the economy.

Longleaf representatives say their goal will be to hire Georgians for the construction work but they'll have to be highly qualified.

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