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Coal arouses crowd's concern

Press Photo by Beth Wischmeyer Dickinson resident Mary Hodell holds her two-month-old daughter Arica as she tells members of the North Dakota Department of Health Division of Air Quality her concerns about a proposed coal beneficiation plant being constructed near South Heart at Dickinson City Hall on Tuesday.

The North Dakota Department of Health Division of Air Quality is proposing to issue an air quality permit to GTL Energy, a company that has started construction on a coal beneficiation plant near South Heart.

The division held a public hearing Tuesday at the Dickinson City Hall where members of the division gave an overview of the project and permitting process. A formal hearing was also held where citizens could testify on the record.

About 100 people attended the meeting and about a dozen testified.

If issued, the permit would allow GTL to begin their operations of drying coal.

Because the plant is being considered a minor source of emissions, it would be partially responsible for monitoring its own air conditions, officials said.

"We wouldn't actually have continuous monitoring data on emissions," said Craig Thorstenson of the division.

Members of the division stated the air permit application for the GTL plant has been thoroughly reviewed.

"GTL will be installing the best controls available to control particulate matter emissions from the facility and will not combust solid fuel," Thorstenson said.

Four baghouses -- or fabric filters -- that control coal dust emissions will be a part of the plant's operation and will remove 99 percent of the coal dust, Thorstenson added. However, it won't be possible for all of the dust to be removed, he said.

Answers are needed to some long-held questions, said Nancy Eberts, a South Heart resident representing Neighbors United, an area group opposing the plant.

"I'm so glad you guys are here," Eberts said. "We have been told by county officials, by zoning board officials, by city officials, both South Heart and Dickinson, that as long as there is a North Dakota Department of Health air permit, we're going to be okay ... the good part about this also is that you're going to get the answers for us, because we never got them."

Members of the Division of Air Quality said they will formally answer all questions posed by citizens.

The division's decision to issue the air permit will have a lasting affect, Eberts said.

"I hope that you realize that your decision is going to affect today, it's going to affect tomorrow, next year and the following year," said Eberts, addressing the division. "There's a school in South Heart and a playground in South Heart, and if there's dust and pollution going through the air, it's going to affect those kids."

Some attendants voiced concerns over connections between GTL Energy and Great Northern Power Development, a company that recently withdrew its permit for a 275-acre mine to be located near South Heart, but announced plans to apply for a larger mine later this year.

If a mine or gasification facility is proposed to be constructed near the beneficiation plant in the future, Thorstenson said additional testing on possible emissions by all of the facilities would be done before permits would be considered.

Dickinson resident Mary Hodell said her children go to South Heart School, raising concern for their health.

"As a mom I want to look out for my kids' health," Hodell said. "The wind blows every other direction and its concerning. I hope you guys take a close look at this and don't allow anything in there that would hurt them."

The original public comment period for the air permit was held from Feb. 6 until March 9, but was extended to May 8.

Anyone wishing to submit comments on the GTL air permit must do so on or before May 8.

Written comments may be sent to: North Dakota Department of Health, Division of Air Quality, 918 East Divide Avenue, Bismarck, N.D. 58501.

Members of the division said up to 30 days may be needed read the comments and then a final decision on the permit will be made.