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Company seeks coal permit

A Houston company has taken another step toward their goal of constructing a $1.5 billion power plant and surface coal mine on 4,600 acres near South Heart.

South Heart Coal LLC, which is owned by Great Northern Power Development, applied for a mining permit Monday.

North Dakota's Public Service Commission will review the application, said Jim Deutsch -- director of PSC's reclamation division.

It will take at least six months to process the application, he said.

"The application is for about 2.4 million tons of coal a year," said Neal Messer, spokesperson for Great Northern.

Britt Huggins, whose home is just a few miles away from the proposed mine and plant, said the project makes her nervous.

"I have horses, I have dogs and I don't so much like the idea of tearing up the countryside," Huggins said. "Plus, what's it going to do to our wildlife and our water?"

She is selling her home, but is having issues because it's so close to the proposed mine.

"I've already had people look at it and say they're worried about that coal mine," Huggins said. "If it goes through, it's going to change everybody's way of life out there."

The plant will be about six miles southwest of South Heart and the mine will be about three miles west of

the town, Messer said.

"It's the biggest economic project in southwest North Dakota's history," Messer said.

Over 90 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted from the plant will be captured and used in other markets, Messer said. He added the company will comply with the Environmental Protection Agency's standards.

"This plant will have no problem meeting or exceeding any of those standards," Messer said.

The plant will use technology to gasify the coal and extract hydrogen, which will be used to generate 175 megawatts of electricity, Messer said. That's enough to power 140,000 homes, he added.

Construction is set to begin in the fall of 2011 and they hope to be operational by 2014, Messer said. The project will create about 1,100 temporary jobs and 350 permanent jobs, Messer said.

Great Northern has also requested the land be rezoned from agricultural to industrial. The Stark County Zoning Board will hold a public hearing for the request Monday at 4 p.m.

The zoning board and Stark County commission approved the property to be rezoned about two years ago. However, a district judge overturned the decision because officials did not follow proper procedures.

Great Northern planned to produce synthetic natural gas two years ago, but changed their mind, Messer said.

"What happened was the natural gas market has deteriorated where that is not a profitable function at this point," Messer said.

Messer expects Great Northern to apply for an air quality permit within the next few months.

Pete Kuntz, Stark County commissioner, said the project will be good for the area.

"We've got to look out for the majority of the people in the county, not only a few," Kuntz said. "There's way more people for than against."

The coal would be mined by removing earth above the coal vein and stockpiling it, Messer said. Once the coal is removed, the earth will be replaced and put back to as close to its original state as possible, he added.

The mine would last about 30 years and the market will determine what happens to the plant after that, Messer said.

"If everything is the same as it is now, then they would go and try to find areas to expand," Messer said.

GTL Energy USA Ltd. is constructing a coal beneficiation plant less than a half a mile away from Great Northern's proposed project.

Messer, who is the spokesperson for Great Northern and GTL, said while they are two separate companies, Great Northern will use GTL Energy's technology to make their plant more efficient.