January 4, 2004
Coal plant has some fired up
Environment vs. economy being considered
Record-Eagle staff writer
MANISTEE - Fred LaPoint doesn't want a new power plant in the city - not
across from his house on Main Street and not on the shores of Manistee
"Years of industrial pollutants have
stressed the lake's ecosystems," he said. "And they're talking about
adding a huge amount of additional pollution."
LaPoint is referring to the Manistee Saltworks/Tondu Corporation's
proposal to build a 425-megawatt, coal-burning power plant at the former
General Chemical site on Main Street.
planning commission could decide Jan. 8 whether a special land use permit
for Northern Lights is complete.
But City Manager
Mitchell Deisch says the matter could be postponed until
LaPoint and other members of Citizens
for Responsible Development say officials need to consider the
environmental impact of a plant that would emit up to 4,000 tons of sulfur
dioxide, 2,000 tons of nitrogen oxide and hundreds of pounds of mercury
"There are a lot of issues," said
LaPoint, a city firefighter. "And they're global issues with the
Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide
affect air quality; at high levels, they contribute to respiratory
illnesses. The most problematic exposure to mercury, which is released as
a gas from burning coal, can occur when it is served up in fish from
polluted waters. Extreme cases can result in damage to the nervous system
and kidney disease.
DEQ spokeswoman Patricia
Spitzley said the heavy metal is a problem throughout western Michigan,
"It's traveling from other
places," she said. "And coal-fired boilers are one of the largest
In its gas form, mercury can travel
along Lake Michigan, currently from industrial sites in Gary, Ind., and
Chicago, before it is deposited in water ecosystems in its path.
Mike Murray, a scientist in the Great Lakes office of the
National Wildlife Federation, said a 2002 study found rain in Traverse
City contained mercury levels up to nine times higher than those
considered safe for surface water. Levels in Manistee probably aren't much
different, he added.
"We can't rely on the rain to
clean up our water bodies because it's more concentrated," Murray said. "A
new coal-fueled power plant is going to continue to add to the mercury
Tondu spokeswoman Meagan Kempf would not
comment specifically on emission levels, but said Northern Lights would
meet all permit regulations necessary to operate.
The company first looked to build the facility in neighboring Filer
Township, but officials there decided economic benefits did not outweigh
And while Citizens for
Responsible Development rally against the project, some officials, like
Deisch, say it could be a boon.
Although the city
actively marketed itself as a tourist destination and retirement resort in
the '90s, Deisch said it might be time for a slight shift back to
industry, which had dominated the scene for decades.
"There are pros and cons in every development," he said. "We have
to wait and see whether or not it's going to be a net benefit."
Deisch said officials would look at economic and social
ramifications, including what effect, if any, the plant would have on the
They will also consider the prospect
of 60 new permanent jobs, which Kempf says would pay from $12.50 to $25
The project also could generate up to
$112 million in construction wages and an additional $10 to $12 million
annually to the local economy, she added.
LaPoint wonders if the economic benefits are worth the potential
"We hear a lot of talk about jobs and
dollars in the community," he said. "But at what cost?"
Another issue for project opponents is if the plant would be added
to local tax rolls.
Kempf says 50 to 100 percent
of the facility could be owned by municipalities. That would result in
tax-exempt status, but wouldn't keep the company from contributing to the
"If the project is municipally owned, a
community services fee will be negotiated and agreed upon with the proper
officials," she said. "Regardless of ownership structure, either taxes or
fees will be agreed upon prior to beginning construction."