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Coal testing site near South Heart ceases operation

SOUTH HEART -- A coal testing plant located five miles south of South Heart and operated by GTL Energy USA Ltd. is moving its work overseas because of strict federal regulations, a company spokesperson said Tuesday.

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A coal plant located 5 miles south of South Heart is shown on Wednesday. The coal plant has closed its operation. (Press Photo by Andrew Wernette)
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SOUTH HEART -- A coal testing plant located five miles south of South Heart and operated by GTL Energy USA Ltd. is moving its work overseas because of strict federal regulations, a company spokesperson said Tuesday.

Dickinson businessman Neal Messer, speaking for the company, said the Obama administration is making it “very difficult” to prove coal technology or use the product once testing is complete.

Messer, who is also the spokesperson for Great Northern Power Development, said the GTL Energy facility was built as a demonstration plant for the company's beneficiation technology, which removes water from dense lignite coal. Initially, the plant was built with the intention of joining forces with Great Northern Power Development to process lignite coal from the area.

“It (the facility) has served the purpose that plant has allowed for several, much larger facilities with similar technologies to be built around the world in places like New Zealand and in Indonesia,” Messer said.

He said the company moved onto the site in 2010, and that the testing has generated business for the company in foreign countries are “more friendly to coal.”

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Removing water from lignite coal increases its BTU capacity, making it more competitive with drier forms of the product that can naturally be found in places like Wyoming.

And while Messer said GTL Energy’s testing has been successful, he added the process has been an “uphill battle” due to the Obama administration's regulatory environment.

He said the South Heart plant accepted about 100,000 tons of Indonesian coal, beneficiated it, and shipped it back. Now, the equipment will head to Indonesia, where the process will continue.

Mary Hodell, a South Heart business owner and one of the residents who formed the group Neighbors United and opposed the plant since initial proposals began in 2006, said there have been a series of little victories for her group along the way, though they were followed by setbacks because of what she believes were revised standards set by Stark County commissioners who viewed the project as a way to increase the number of jobs in the area.

“The plant was an eyesore, but it was really the mine that we didn’t want,” Hodell said.

After so many years of contention, she says the disassemblage of the facility is a “victory.”

“The buildings aren’t gone yet,” Hodell said. “So we are hesitantly excited. But once the buildings are down and the landscape is quiet again then we can celebrate.”

However, Messer said the company has no intentions of breaking down the physical structure, which will remain intact until another use is found for the facility.

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“They are looking for other uses for the facility,” Messer said. “At this point, ownership is probably secondary rather than trying to find a use for it.”

A manager for Sky Mining Services -- a Virginia-based coal service company -- who asked not to be identified when he spoke to the The Press at the plant on Tuesday, said his company is disassembling equipment for shipping. He said GTL has been not been testing at the site for more than a month, and that Sky Mining Services will likely be there another month until they clear the location.

To citizens like Hodell, that’s good news.

“We won,” she said. “They’re leaving.”

Andrew Wernette and Andrew Haffner, and Managing Editor Dustin Monke contributed to this story.

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