Here’s Excelsior’s Tom Micheletti and CAMP’s Charlotte Neigh!

From the Hibbing Daily Tribune (article not available online):

TACONITE â?? A group of concerned residents have joined together and formed a nonprofit corporation with one main purpose â?? to stand in opposition to the Mesaba Energy project, a proposed coal gasification power generation facility to be located in Taconite.
The group called Citizens Against the Mesaba Project (CAMP), which is co-chaired by Charlotte Neigh and Ed Anderson, was formed earlier this year in response to Excelsior Energyâ??s proposal for the project.

â??CAMPâ??s task is to inform local residents about what this project will cost them and to let people know that it can be stopped,â? said Neigh. â??We need to encourage them to speak out about their concerns to their elected officials and to the government agencies involved in approving the applications.â?

There is no membership costs for being a part of the group; five people serve on the board of directors.

â??The requirement for membership is you support our mission,â? said Neigh. The group formed after the proposed site for the project changed from Hoyt Lakes to Taconite, and a presentation on the project was given in Trout Lake Township by representatives of Excelsior Energy. Neigh said a group of people had questions and concerns so they talked about what could be done and formally

After a few meetings, the group developed a mission statement which includes five main points as to why it opposes the construction of the 600 megawatt power plant. The mission statement details reasons behind their opposition, including:

â?¢ Diminishing recreational lake country near the scenic highway; exacerbating global warming, and polluting water and air;
â?¢ Large amounts of diesel fuel will be burned to mine and transport coal to generate electricity that is not needed and will require new transmission lines to the Twin Cities;
â?¢ Electrical transmission lines, railroads, pipelines and roads for water and natural gas shouldnâ??t be pushed on private property owners through eminent domain to benefit a private corporation;
â?¢ Without the more than $50 million in public funding and $800 million needed in federal loans, the financial risk is too high for the private sector to take on;
â?¢ And with only 107 permanent jobs, it does not offset the environmental and financial costs.

â??We developed these five points that everyone agreed were accurate and showed the various priorities that different people had,â? said Neigh. â??That was a starting point for the group, which has evolved as more information has been available.â?

While outlining their main concerns, Neigh said the primary role of coal gasification is the ability to capture and remove carbon dioxide. â??It is undisputed that carbon dioxide cannot be sequestered at this site,â? she explained. â??Thus this benefit is lost, and all of the other pollutants from combusting coal negatively affect the environment and health locally.â?

Neigh said another concern is possible contamination of Canisteo Lake due to the discharge water from the plant, which would close it to recreational activity.

â??Canisteo is currently a popular recreational lake with water so clean that it has about 50 feet of visibility and has been stocked with trout,â? she said. â??The current plan for the excess Canisteo water is to gradually flush out Trout Lake, which would benefit from improved water quality. The contaminated water may infiltrate the aquifer and contaminate the wells used to supply water to the
residents of Bovey and Coleraine.�

Cost are another bother. Officials are seeking approximately $55 million for infrastructure including a service road, railroad, natural gas pipeline and sewer, and water service for the project.
â??Although some of this might be paid with state bonding funds, Itasca County and the cities of Taconite and Nashwauk are planning to provide these services, likely incurring debt to do so,â? noted Neigh. â??If the project fails and defaults on its obligations, the property taxpayers would have to pay off any remaining debt.â?

While outlining another concern of CAMP, Neigh said the plan is to send the electricity produced by the first two units to NSP/Xcel Energy for use in the Twin Cities, which she added has no direct local benefit.

â??The existing transmission grid cannot accommodate this power without major upgrades and/or additional lines, which will cost hundreds of millions of dollars,â? she stated. â??This additional cost, which will eventually be paid by electric customers, is not included in the scope of the project.â?

She said the infrastructure directly supporting the project and the transmission lines will require that private property, mostly likely to be taken through eminent domain.

Another worry of CAMP, according to Neigh, is that the plant has been exempted from the utility personal property tax. The project has also been granted other tax breaks by the state and is seeking more, according to Neigh.

â??These costs, both financial and otherwise, will be borne by the public,â? she said. â??The relatively few jobs that will be created for local residents do not offset these costs. Any profits will belong exclusively to a for-profit corporation.â?

Neigh said CAMP is trying to provide information about the project to people in the region with the main message that â??this project is not in the best interest of Itasca County and the people who live there â?? and it should and can be stopped.â?

â??As we go around talking to people we find that they have a vague concern about it and they donâ??t know very much about it,â? said Neigh. â??They also believe it is already a done deal, and there is no point of paying attention because you canâ??t do anything about it anyway. We need to make it understood there are things that need to be done about it and give them the reasons things need to be done about it.â?

Neigh said they are trying to get information out to the general public, as well as the elected officials, about what the project will cost and to let them know it can be stopped.

â??This is a tremendously complex project,â? she noted. â??We find that many people are uneasy about it, but are too busy to study it well enough to understand its flaws and its serious ramifications. Public opinion matters. Elected officials will respond if they know that a significant portion of their constituents share a position.â?

The Department of Commerce will hold a public hearing regarding environmental issues at 7 p.m. Aug. 22 at Taconite City Hall and on Aug. 23 in Hoyt Lakes.

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