By Chris Berendt Staff Writer
February 5, 2014
A public hearing on an organic digester plant has been delayed until April so company officials proposing the facility can communicate with a local residential and industrial contingent that has voiced opposition to the plant’s location in Clinton.
NOVI Carolina Digester I LLC has requested a conditional use permit to construct a green electricity production facility on a 40-acre site off Industrial Drive in Clinton’s Sampson Southeast Business Center. The matter was continued following a lengthy public hearing at the City Council’s December meeting until Tuesday’s regular February meeting. It’s now been continued again.
NOVI officials asked for a further continuance, until the Council’s April 1 regular meeting, to hold discussions with community residents and the industries it hopes will soon be neighbors. The Council unanimously approved the request for a continuance.
The hearing will take place at the Council’s April 1 meeting, set for 7 p.m. at the City Hall Auditorium.
“We propose to have the City Council consider this matter again during your normally scheduled meeting in April,” a letter from Jim Zimmer, NOVI’s site manager for N.C. development projects, stated. “Our request for the continuance is to allow us more time to facilitate meetings with the other Industrial Park owners and leaders of the nearby residential neighborhoods, and also to provide more time for another possible visit by some of these leaders to our Fremont plant.”
If approved, the 4.3 megawatt electric power generation plant would be the second commercial-scale anaerobic digester in the nation. The 3 megawatt Fremont Community Digester in Fremont, Mich., for which NOVI is a managing partner, was the first. The plant would digest organic waste — a variety of agriculture and food waste would be used as feedstock — into bio-methane, which fuels engine-generators to generate the renewable energy.
The request has been met with intense opposition since it was initially made in December. Along with nearby residents, leaders of big-name local industries DuBose and Schindler, both Industrial Drive tenants, have come out against the proposed facility.
Many community residents have cited the “unknowns” surrounding the plant, saying they were against the location due to the potential health and environmental issues and odor that would contribute to a lower quality of life and declining property values in their neighborhoods.
Zimmer said his company wanted to bunk myths and clear up misunderstandings through community meetings that are meant to inform and educate.
“We feel it’s important to have these meetings to allow the business and community leaders an opoprtunity to see and learn more about how we design and operate our plants so that their decisions can be based on what we do and not based on comparison of how other businesses may operate.”
NOVI Energy President Anand Gangadharan has previously detailed a completely enclosed transportation and delivery process, and the many steps taken to keep vehicles, the facility and the community free of any leaked waste.
The Clinton plant would take 14 months to construct and create about a dozen jobs (the number varies from 6 to as much as 21). The electricity produced at the plant would be sold as part of a long-term power purchase agreement with Duke Energy, a two decade-long contract, bringing longevity to the community, company officials said.
A couple community meetings have been held in recent weeks to rally opposition against NOVI. Brandon Holland of Kristin Drive told Council Tuesday that the community remains engaged.
“We understand that it is being continued for further information to be gathered. Since December, we have gathered a lot of information ourselves,” said Holland. “We have talked to residents from Michigan, we’ve gotten information back from them, we’ve got petitions we’re getting together and talked to a lot of people in the community.”
“We’re still trying to do our part to help present information to the City Council as well,” said Holland.
Mayor Lew Starling said everyone would have their chance to speak at the April 1 hearing.
“On April 1, we’ll have ample opportunity to let everybody speak who wishes to speak and you can present whatever you wish to present,” Starling said. “We’ll be here until the bitter end.”
County NOVI hearing delayed
Along with the continuance of the city public hearing for the proposed Clinton plant, a county public hearing on incentives for a second NOVI plant in Sampson, possibly in the southern end of the county, was also continued until April.
The Sampson County Board of Commissioners are continuing negotiations with NOVI regarding an incentives agreement that would extend grantbacks over 10 years in return for NOVI Carolina Digester I LLC’s $22 million taxable investment in Clinton.
A public hearing to consider similar appropriations and expenditures for NOVI Digester III LLC, continued from December until Monday, was again continued.
Economic developer John Swope requested that the hearing be continued a second time, until April.
Swope has previously noted that NOVI was seeking to develop plants at several different locations. NOVI Carolina Digester II is proposed for Duplin and NOVI Carolina Digester III could be located in southern Sampson or northern Bladen County.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.