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Area residents fighting new power plant

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Ellis County Press
FERRIS - Angered by a general lack of communication, a group of residents organized a fight against the proposed Watermill generating plant near the intersections of Stainback and Nokomis Roads between the cities of Ferris and Red Oak.

'Bottom line, we don't want it there,' said Crump Country Estates resident Todd Korthauer.

The residents turned out in force at a regular meeting of the Ferris City Council on Monday, Feb. 5.

'We're pleading with ya'll because we don't want the power plant,' said Korthauer. 'Will you take us in?'

Ferris council members were sympathetic, but unable to do much. 'I'm interested in what you have to say,' said Alderman Fred Pontley.

'Make a request by Feb. 15, before the next meeting, and we'll be glad to put it on the agenda,' said Mayor Jimmie Birdwell.

City Attorney Richard Wilson gave a short explanation of the annexation process, but cautioned the group it might not be the solution they need.

'Please, if you don't mind,' he said, 'even if the city grants your request for annexation, there's very little the city can do about the location of power plants.'

The residents put together a packet of information to distribute to their neighbors. 'Bet'cha didn't know,' it proclaimed.

'We're just taking it step by step,' said Ann Szemtruck. 'The first thing is to petition TNRCC for a local contested case hearing.'

Avista-Steag, the company requesting a permit to build the power plant, is dismayed by the reaction of the residents.

'We don't have anything to hide,' said Joe Mendez, asset development director for Avista-Steag.

'We have a good story to tell.'

Mendez said he had not been given an opportunity to address the issues before an article appeared in the Jan. 25 issue of the Ellis County Press.

'There was an allegation there,' he said.

'But none of the positive impact - an increase in the tax base for Red Oak City, an increase in the tax base for Ferris ISD. It seems to me you didn't get on our side.'

Some area residents have commented on the positive impact the plant could have. 'We need the power - we don't want to be like California,' said one man.

'It is definitely more positive than negative.'

But residents have raised a number of issues they want to have addressed:

n Overall lack of communication

n Possible annexation of the site and surrounding residences by Red Oak

n Discharge of water used in cooling towers

n Discharge into the air

'They don't seem to have many answers,' said Szemtruck. 'We asked them where are they going to get the water, what kind of water, where will it run off - they just said ‘we don't know, we don't know.''

Szemtruck owns property directly across the street from the proposed plant and said the company proposes discharging water into a tributary running through her back yard.

But Celeste Wiley of Zephyr Environmental said the company has made no decisions relating to water discharge.

'I can tell you they have not worked out or applied for a discharge permit,' Wiley said.

'We are also looking at dry cooling towers. Remember when you do a permit application, you do a worst-case scenario.'

Wiley said the company is only now in the process of analyzing the quality of the gray water from the Trinity River Authority which is being considered for water-cooled towers.

'The water quality very much affects the design and operation of that cooling tower,' she said.

Wiley also indicated TNRCC would have responsibility for evaluating the impact of any drainage, assuming the company files for a discharge permit.

Residents also took issue with a map submitted to TNRCC. 'The map is 35 to 50 years old,' said Szemtruck. 'It showed no residences in this area.'

Wiley admitted the USGS map in the permit application was prepared in 1959. 'That is the most current one they publish,' she said. 'But all the homes are considered in the modeling analysis.'

Wiley said she had provided the TNRCC with a series of aerial photos ranging in date from 1942 to 1994 to supplement the application.

Some residents felt the company had mishandled communications about the plant, filing the application for public review in the Ferris Public Library while negotiating with Red Oak for a tax abatement agreement, which the Industrial Development Corporation approved at its last meeting.

Wiley said at one point she chose the Ferris library because there was no library in Red Oak. Later, she said she chose it because the proposed plant site is closer to Ferris.

When pressed, Wiley agreed to post a copy of the application in a public facility in Red Oak and to make copies available to interested residents, short of mailing out hundreds of copies.

'I would be more than happy to put a copy in Red Oak,' she said. 'Just give me a suggestion - where?'

Meanwhile, the residents are working hard to educate themselves and their neighbors about the proposed plant and the permitting process.

'Avista-Steag has already passed the first step without our knowledge,' a flyer stated. 'Use your voice to prevent them from passing the next step and harming our families.'

The group is holding a community meeting tonight (Feb. 8) at New Life Ministries in Red Oak at 7:30 p.m. They also plan to attend the next regular meeting of the Red Oak City Council on Monday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m.

Mendez said Avista-Steag welcomes the discussions. 'I want to be very responsive to any of your questions,' he said. 'I think it is a good thing to have raised awareness.'

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