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Meeting on proposed South Heart gasification plant draws a large crowd

SOUTH HEART -- An abundance of information, questions and people filled the South Heart Public School gymnasium Wednesday evening.

A public meeting held by Great Northern Power Development LP brought many people from near and far to listen, learn and directly ask questions to the officials involved with the $1.4 billion coal gasification plant project being proposed south of town.

The meeting packed the gym's bleachers while a panel of presenters sitting front and center used a large screen projection to inform the group on the project.

The presentation panel included GNPD Vice President of Power Development Richard Voss, technical consultant Al Lukes, engineering consultant Douglas Moore with Norwest, senior hydro-geologist Pam Stella with Golder Associates Incorporated and Ed Pottorff, who spoke on water resources.

The bulk of the evening was spent on the presentations during which the public was able to write down their questions or comments for later.

Not all questions were addressed during the meeting, but GNPD officials said they would gather all inquiries written down and follow up on them after the meeting.

Voss presented on general information and the potential economic impact of the plant. He discussed the number of jobs and revenue potential the proposed project could unleash on South Heart and the surrounding community.

Lukes discussed information on the plant itself and the use of a newer gasifier called the British Gas LURGI. Lukes also is the former plant manager for Dakota Gasification in Beulah. His discussion also touched on the proposed plant's byproducts and their potential uses.

Moore's discussion centered on the land use of the plant and mining area, geological studies and equipment used in mining while Stella talked about environmental impact studies required by several agencies in the state in the permitting process for Great Northern. Pottorff presented information being sought and used on water resources affected by the proposed plant and mining.

Questions ran the gamut. The officials grouped questions into areas of popular interest. The size of the mine site and the possible expansion of mining was one popular question.

"With the buffer zone in there we're looking at just under 5,000 acres," Voss said. "We're still just looking at potential expansion, but have to figure out the best way to do that."

There's coal all over the area, but what plays into this is how much it costs for stripping which is expensive and there are factors to consider on what direction to go, Moore added.

Lukes fielded questions on radon, uranium and carbon dioxide sequestration.

"The uranium forms from the process of decay in deep seams in the earth and in our plant it will be produced into an ash that's a glassy substance," Lukes said. "It's a BB like material which cannot be inhaled unless broken down and the danger of uranium is being inhaled."

The glassy ash substance could be used on roadways for dust suppression and there is work being done to ensure it is safe and not broken down to be inhaled while on the roads, he added.

"Radon is present all around us and we all get our basements tested for it," Lukes said. "There's no indication radon would be a problem with this plant."

The carbon dioxide sequestration plans for the South Heart plant is to store it in the Williston Basin, Lukes said.

Lukes also talked about research done on any leakage of carbon underground and there was no significant leakage found after 5,000 years. There is still work being done on seeing how it affects and works in salty water storage. He added that up to 90 percent of the South Heart plant's CO2 will be recovered.

Water usage of the plant and affect on water resources in the area is a major concern and popped up during question time.

"We're using the best science available to see what wells are affected and how they will be," Voss said. "Great Northern will enter into agreements with each well owner to guarantee replacement of their water in quality and quantity. We are establishing contingency plans, looking at every well...and our intent is to work with every well owner affected within our buffer zone."

If there is somebody beyond that area who feels their well will be impacted they must get their own certification done, he added.

"If it shows our mining operations have affected their well we will reimburse them for the costs...and replace the water," Voss said. "This is a manageable problem that can be resolved, but if someone thinks we missed them they should let us know."

Question on the roads, environmental impact studies, elevation drops in land, byproducts and plant stack details, health and reclamation were also asked during the evening.

North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Sue Wefald was present at the meeting Wednesday.

"I just came to listen and I am interested in what questions are asked," Wefald said. "I like to be at a meeting like this whenever I can to hear everything firsthand rather than read or hear about it later from someone else."

Wefald said people had visited with her before the meeting, but for the most part she has been part of general conversation on the proposed plant project.

"No materials or reports have come to the staff about it yet," she added. "We're just providing advice (on the project) at this time."

GNPD officials mentioned at the end of the meeting they would be holding another meeting in Dickinson in several weeks, but there was no date assigned.