Board votes in favor of rezoning land: Coal company a step closer to projectAfter an emotionally charged public hearing over a coal company’s request to rezone land near South Heart, the Stark County Zoning Board voted in favor of the change. It will recommend its decision to the Stark County Commission today during its meeting which begins at 8 a.m.
After an emotionally charged public hearing over a coal company’s request to rezone land near South Heart, the Stark County Zoning Board voted in favor of the change. It will recommend its decision to the Stark County Commission today during its meeting which begins at 8 a.m.
South Heart Coal, a company owned by Great Northern Power Development, requested the zoning change on about 7,780 acres to facilitate a coal mine and construction of a coal gasification plant.
More then 15 people spoke out about concerns they have over the company moving into the area.
Valerie Naylor, superintendent of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, fears the project will impact the park. She expects the issue to generate national attention.
“I want the Zoning Board to understand that we do have serious concerns about the proposed industrial development so close to our treasured national park,” Naylor said. “When I saw the recent list that includes so many conditional uses within 15 to 18 miles of the park boundary, well I was pretty shocked.”
GNPD’s application for rezoning also requested nine conditional use permits including a chemical fertilizer plant and a solid waste landfill. They also requested a permit for liquid, gas bulk, explosive, highly compressed or other hazardous material storage.
Gaylon Baker, executive vice president of Stark Development Corporation, was the only person outside GNPD that spoke in support of the project during the public hearing.
“We think that the environmental regulations, the people who write those regulations and the people who administer them are very well-trained, very qualified scientists and we have a lot of faith in what they’re going to do,” Baker said.
GNPD officials agreed they would follow environmental regulations.
The project also will help diversify the area’s economy, Baker said.
Area residents voiced concerns over many of the permits requested by GNPD. Many also worry about the impact the facility would have on water.
Water wells close to the project will likely lose water, said Rich Southwick, vice president of environmental for the company said.
“In rare cases it may actually drop below the pump level,” Southwick said. “The worst case scenario is a mile away a well might see a one foot reduction in static water levels.”
The closer a well is to the project, the more likely a well will lose water, he added.
However, the company will replace any water lost, Southwick said.
Laura Tangen voiced several concerns including how the project would affect air quality and the potential for odors and noise.
Southwick said it’s possible the Tangens, who live within a mile of the site, will be able to detect odor.
Many residents asked board members to research the project further and provide the public with more information before making a decision.
“I think we need to keep moving forward to the next level to get everybody answers,” said Carson Steiner, board member.
Board member Jay Elkin agreed.
“The only way that we’re going to get answers is during the permitting process,” Elkin said. “Each and every one of these agencies that those permits are sought from will hold a hearing in regard to the permits…”
The board unanimously voted to amend the zoning of the land from agricultural to industrial, subject to GNPD getting all required local, state and federal permits. The board also stipulated the company sign a road agreement with Stark County.