The “unknowns” surrounding an organic waste digester plant proposed for Clinton are enough to draw the ire, and opposition, of local residents who would be the plant’s new neighbors.
A meeting Sunday night at a Cedar View Lane home had about 40 people in attendance. The goal of the meeting was to get the word out about NOVI Energy, educate attendees about the industry, answer questions if possible and urge them to seek out additional information themselves.
Many still do not know anything about the industry or its potential location in Clinton, they said.
NOVI Carolina Digester I LLC has proposed to located on a 41-acre tract of land off Industrial Drive, Clinton, within the Sampson Southeast Business Center. A conditional use request by NOVI to set up at the site, owned by the Clinton 100 Committee, was tabled by the City Council last month and will be considered further at its Feb. 4 regular meeting.
The company proposes to develop and construct a 4.3 megawatt electric power generation plant that digests 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.
Residents along Nathan Dudley Road, Cedar View Lane, Cedar Lake Lane, Kristin Drive and Lesley Drive, said they opposed 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.
“I think the main thing we’re concerned about is, anytime you’re bringing waste in even though it’s contained in these tanks, you just don’t know the long-term effects,” said Kristin Drive resident Angie Brewer. “A lot of us have young kids playing outside every day. The FDA passes drugs every day and says they’re safe. How many times do you hear 10 years later there is a bad side effect? The same thing could happen here.”
At a Dec. 17 City Council public hearing, NOVI Energy President Anand Gangadharan 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.
Still many residents at Sunday’s meeting expressed concerns.
The facility would be the second commercial-scale anaerobic digester in the United States, with the first being in Fremont, Mich. Brewer said she has researched NOVI and has found nothing bad about it. However, the plant itself is still very new and the long-term health and environmental effects are simply not known, she and others said.
Kristin Drive resident Brandon Holland said it was hard to believe that transporting old food waste and animal waste around Clinton at a rate of four or five trucks every hour at least 12 hours a day could be done with no odor, contrary to NOVI’s contract with baby food company Gerber at the Michigan.
“It’s not the same thing as what we have here,” said Holland, who noted organic waste here would likely be produced using food waste, meat remnants and hog waste slurry, more prone to smell. “It is going to be a totally different product.”
‘Too close to families’
Clinton City Board of Education member Carol Worley was one of those who came to Sunday’s meeting in opposition to the plant. Worley said she spoke with Councilman Steve Stefanovich recently, who relayed to her, as he did at the Dec. 17 hearing, his concerns about unanswered questions.
Council members at that meeting said they did not think a local group of four people who visited the Michigan plant — Economic developer John Swope, County manager Ed Causey, Commissioner Albert Kirby and Sherrie Smith — got a true assessment of the operation. It was on a Sunday when the plant was closed, and the weather was very rainy, a situation that Swope and Causey said prevented them from talking to nearby residents.
Worley said Stefanovich told her the Feb. 4 meeting will continue discussion about the plant. A vote for or against the plant may or may not happen. Many Council members said they were not opposed to the concept, but questioned the proposed location of the plant.
“That’s the way a lot of us feel,” Holland said. “The idea behind it is probably pretty good. They’re getting rid of something that is of no use to us, and trying to do something else with it — but not where they want to put it. It’s just too close to families and there is too much we don’t know about.”
Gangadharan has said he felt the proposed Clinton plant would be a model facility, a good corporate citizen and a source of pride in the community, serving as a viable solution to a waste transportation process that already takes place every day in Sampson and surrounding counties.
“Sometimes you can paint a pretty picture, but once the plant is here, it’ll be too late,” Brewer said.
“We don’t need that around here,” Holland said simply. “He tried to say that everything would be great and perfect, but things happen. There are just so many unknowns, we’re just trying to get it out to the public so you can know about it and find out more information about it yourselves.”
Numerous anti-NOVI signs have dotted Nathan Dudley Road and many of the smaller streets off of it.
“We just don’t feel like it needs to be right behind our house in this neighborhood,” said Holland. “We just need them to move out somewhere else. There are a lot of unknowns and I don’t feel like we need to be a guinea pig for them.”
Leaders of big-name local industries DuBose and Schindler, both Industrial Drive tenants, shared their opposition to the proposed facility during the Dec. 17 meeting, as did residents in the surrounding communities. Noise, traffic and odor coming from transporting and dropping off organic waste were among the main concerns, as well as decreasing property values and the loss of industrial prospects that might result.
“They’ve heard what we’ve got to say. I don’t know how much that is going to influence them,” said Nathan Dudley Road resident Doug Norris. “But if enough people call them and worry them every day, that’s going to go a long way when it comes time to vote yes or no. When they’ve heard from enough people in the community that we don’t want it, they’re going to have a tough time getting up there and voting for something no one in this community wants.”
Many at Sunday’s meeting mentioned the four-person local contingent that visited the NOVI plant in Michigan and their report that residents appeared to be living in harmony with the plant. They agreed with Council members that a true assessment was needed.
Letters have been sent to Fremont, Mich., residents to gauge their feedback, “to see what they see and smell,” Holland noted. For many residents, their mind is already made up.
“I don’t want it over here,” Norris said. “I don’t care if it’s the nicest plant I’ve ever seen in my life. I don’t want it over here.”
“I want people to have jobs and we definitely need to bring more money into the City of Clinton, of course we want that, but you’re talking 6-12 jobs and this could affect our health,” said one woman. “It’s just the wrong location. If you’re talking 40, 50, 100 jobs that are going to help people and is far out in the country, not near nice neighborhoods and other businesses, sure.”
Residents pointed to the current industries’ opposition to NOVI, and said that would likely be the tipping point.
“They seem to carry more weight because they are already paying taxes and operating businesses in the Industrial Park,” said Norris. “It’s great to everyone here to fight this thing, but I can guarantee you (the City Council) cares more about DuBose’s and Schindler’s opinion than they do ours.”
“Large companies speak volumes,” said another resident, who said a letter should be drafted on behalf of the community thanking them for the support and reminding them of the Feb. 4 meeting.
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). About 300 feet of trees would be left alone and the facility would likely use less than half of the 41 acres, leaving a large buffer, Gangadharan noted.
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. Some residents felt having that agreement was a main reason it was being considered, where poultry-litter incineration plant Fibrowatt failed to obtain such a contract.
“The difference from Fibrowatt is they could not get that purchase agreement, where NOVI actually has that purchase agreement in hand,” said Nathan Dudley Road resident Alfred Tyndall. “There’s a good chance that if Fibrowatt had that purchase agreement in hand, that plant would probably be being built right now.”
Norris said using taxpayer dollars to build a “multi-million dollar plant that is going to employ six to 12 people,” and is going to cost twice what it takes through traditional means to produce electricity, was not cost effective.
“Sometime in the future it might be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it’s not right now,” said Norris.
While there was much opposition at the City Council meeting last month, the Sampson County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved continuing negotiations with NOVI regarding an incentives agreement that would extend grantbacks over 10 years in return for NOVI’s $22 million taxable investment.
That was another problem, residents said.
“You subsidize these companies and give them tax breaks, and they don’t put anything back (in the community),” Norris said. “They’re taking your tax dollars to build these monstrosities and then the infrastructure of Clinton — your roads and city streets — are getting deteriorated by hundreds and hundreds of trucks every week. When all is said and done, they close the doors, the roads are torn to pieces and you’re left with something no one can use.”
Many felt there was a cloak of secrecy surrounding the industry’s potential location to Clinton, with little known about NOVI before the Dec. 17 meeting and still much more left to be answered.
“Something smells and it hasn’t even gotten here yet,” Norris said.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.