Coal plant has some fired up
Environment vs. economy being considered
By Marla McMackin
Traverse City Record-Eagle
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 Lake.
"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.
The city 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 February.
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 each year.
"There are a lot of issues," said LaPoint, a
city firefighter. "And they're global issues with
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, including Manistee.
"It's traveling from other places," she said.
"And coal-fired boilers are one of the largest sources."
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
"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 burden."
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 environmental concerns.
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 city's image.
They will also consider the prospect of 60 new permanent
jobs, which Kempf says would pay from $12.50 to $25 per
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.
But LaPoint wonders if the economic benefits are worth
the potential risks.
"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 community.
"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."