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New Ferris plant worries resident

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Ellis County Press
RED OAK - A Houston company plans to build a generating plant near the intersection of Nokomis and Stainback Roads. The first public comment period passed with no response, and Diana Rawlins, an area environmental activist, is concerned.

'It isn't enough for the citizens of Ferris to have a dump on the ground!' Rawlins wrote.

'Now the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission is permitting Avista-Steag, LLC to dump in Ferris' air too.'

Rawlins stated the proposed plant, which would be located in the Ferris School District but in the Red Oak extra-territorial jurisdiction, would be a '1,200 megawatt electric generating facility on 100 acres of land with two facilities on site. The permit application states the facility has the potential to emit 100 tons per year or more of air contaminants regulated under the Clean Air Act.'

Rawlins raised questions about the accuracy of Avista-Steag's application and satisfaction of requirements for the permitting process.

'The permit application was duly placed in the Ferris public library during the public comment period, however, the public library was undergoing renovation during a part of the public comment period and the permit was not available to the public,' Rawlins wrote.

'The amended permit application was not received at the library or the region four office of the TNRCC until the 8th of January.'

But Eric Hendrickson, Combustion Team Leader in the Air Permits Division of the TNRCC said the standard has no requirement other than the 30-day time period. 'There is no language that says they have to be open 40 hours a week, or 30 hours a week, or even 20,' Hendrickson said.

He noted TNRCC received no inquiries in the 30 days after the legal notice appeared in the Ellis County Press on Nov. 30, 2000.

'Actually, as a point of fact, I had talked to someone that called me after the notice period was over,' Hendrickson said.

'They were looking for a copy of the application. I suggested they look at the library. I subsequently contacted our regional office, asked them to call the library and find out when they were doing their renovation. They were closed at the tail end of the notice period and on the verge of the outside of the notice period.'

Hendrickson said the regional office also called the library to determine if members of the public could obtain the application in spite of the renovation or preparations for renovation and got a positive answer.

Celeste Wiley, spokesperson for Avista-Steag, said the company chose the Ferris Library because Red Oak has no library. The company was unaware of the renovation plans.

'Facts I've received indicate that there was nothing wrong with the availability during the notice period,' Hendrickson said.

'That's what I'm going to go with until I receive information to tell me otherwise.'

According to Hendrickson, the 'amended permit application' Rawlins refers to contained only one change, the addition of a professional engineer's stamp, and thus did not extend the 30-day comment period.

'It did not substantially change the application,' he said.

Rawlins also pointed out inaccuracies in the maps submitted by Avista-Steag. 'For some reason, the map submitted by Avista-Steag in its TNRCC permit application shows not a single house, farm, business, or any other structure on it at all, not in the one mile area surrounding the plant, nor for the extended distance the map purports to represent,' she wrote.

'The map does have a one-mile boundary line shown around the plant site. One wonders if the one-mile zone is the proposed pollutant impact zone and just how many houses and people do live in that area. The residences directly across the front of the property on Stainback are not shown nor are the roads all reflected by the map.'

A site review prepared by Alyssa M. Taylor of the TNRCC Region 4 office stated one concern relating to the site.

'All surrounding receptors are houses,' Taylor wrote. 'Please take this into consideration when doing modeling due to the high emissions potential.'

Hendrickson indicated inaccurate maps are common and are the reason for doing a site review, which the department would do again if necessary.

'It's pretty simple, if someone believes the site review is inaccurate, bring it to my attention or one of my colleagues and they would go back out and look at the site again,' he said.

'Yes, even if the public comment period has passed.'

TNRCC Permit Engineer Jim Linville said the public review period at the beginning of the permitting process is a new standard, mandated within the last year. 'One way of couching this, the new procedures that require public notice early are getting the word out,' he said.

'But we're unable to answer all the questions because we haven't done our job yet.'

On this particular application, TNRCC's technical review is just beginning.

'Verification of the calculations, review of the control technology, review of the modeling,' Hendrickson listed.

Air dispersion modeling is a way of projecting what emissions concentrations are going to be from the stacks of the facility.

'We often refer to those as impacts,' Hendrickson said. 'We evaluate impacts and compare those to the national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) and to state regulatory standards. We also ensure that all other rules are going to be complied with.'

Hendrickson said impacts are designed to be protective of human health and the environment.

'I'm receptive,' he said. 'It's not like this is a closed process. We certainly do welcome input.'

Rawlins suggested citizens look into the project, to determine for themselves if they do or do not have a problem with it.

'Beyond the air contaminants, the public should be asking questions about lighting and reflected glare, they can request a noise study, and they can ask for information on construction dust,' she wrote.

'The public should be asking what entity is supplying the water needed by this company and where the waste water discharges and to be given some information about separators.'

Both Rawlins and Hendrickson encourage individuals to be alert for the next public comment period, which will occur near the end of the permitting process. Citizens can add their names to a mailing list to receive all notices pertaining to the project by writing to TNRCC Mail Code 105, PO Box 13087, Austin, TX 78711-3087, or by calling the Public Assistance Office at 1-800-687-4040.

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