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New group emerges to get answers on plant

SOUTH HEART -- Banding together to be informed is the premise behind a new group of residents called Neighbors United.

According to group member and South Heart resident Neil Tangen, Neighbors United formed about a month ago.

Concerned citizen Mary Hodell said Neighbors United is like a support group.

The group consists of those who live around the site of a $1.4 billion coal gasification plant being proposed by Great Northern Power Development LP. The proposed project's construction could start in late 2009 or early 2010 with a completion target of 2012.

Many joined the group simply as a means of getting answers to questions, which they feel Great Northern hasn't answered.

"The main goal is to get legitimate, factual answers to our questions," group member and South Heart resident Nancy Ebert said. "I joined because my questions aren't answered and I'm thinking to the future...past 2012. I want to know what's going to happen to the area 10 to 15 years down the road, not just in the next few years."

Eberts, Gordon Krance, Tangen and Hodell also are members of the Badlands Area Resource Council, an off-shoot of the Dakota Resource Council, which has been circulating petitions, letters and their own information about the project.

"With the Neighbors United (group), there were a few more people that didn't want be associated with the DRC, but wanted to get out there and voice opinions," Krance said. "The main reason for this other group is to get information to those who want it."

Hodell, Ebert and Krance agree the group is not directly opposing the plant project.

"The DRC is admittedly opposed to any coal project. The DRC has a pre-formed agenda," Hodell said. "We're not opposing this just for the sake of opposing something. We're not opposing the project. There's just not enough information (on it)."

Eberts said she is grateful to the DRC for giving her and others an avenue to head down and information to get started.

"They have more on their agenda, but this is our main concern" Eberts said of the DRC and the project.

Hodell said Neighbors United formed after a group, including her, talked to people around South Heart about a petition. The petition requested that the Stark County Planning and Zoning Commission not approve any rezoning for GNPD until an Environmental Impact Statement is done.

The petition was presented at the commission's meeting Thursday, Jan. 3 and the decision on allowing Great Northern to acquire 17 sections of agricultural land for its mine was tabled until its next meeting on Monday, March 3.

"With the petition, we visited neighbors and walked the streets of South Heart," Hodell said. "We thought we'd spend five minutes with each person and ended up talking more like 25 minutes at every door. We met a lot of people who were strongly against it, but didn't know what to do."

"I talk daily with three or four different members through e-mail or on the phone," Hodell said. "It's nice to get together. At the first meeting we wrote a letter to the county commissioners and zoning board (about our concerns)."

The group also wants to send more letters out to anyone that will listen, she added.

"We're at the beginning level in this whole process where we can raise our concerns," Eberts said. "We're concerned about impacts on water like natural springs, protection from blasting in the mines. Many of us live only within miles of this plant."

Before anything happens, Eberts wants to be informed on the entire process and how things work, she added.

"As a group, we've only met a few times," Eberts said. "This group has blossomed into sharing ideas and information."

It's about neighbors calling neighbors and talking with each other, she added.

Krance said he doesn't exactly favor the proposed plant, but still wants to see progress and development in the area.

"I'm just not sure if coal is the way to go," Krance said of progress options. "I like to see things get done the right way and that they (GNPD) follow the right procedures...if the project goes through it'll be for the right reasons or if it fails it'll fail for the right reasons."

Krance said in his mind GNPD did not submit a complete rezoning application and there are remaining questions to be answered from the company's last public meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 23.

Krance and Hodell said they are going to attend the next public meeting by GNPD at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 20 at the Days Inn Grand Dakota Lodge and Conference Center in Dickinson, Eberts also hopes she can make it.