While I don’t fault some area residents for having concerns about a new industry coming to Curwensville, I can’t see for the life of me why there is so much fear of the presently unknown.
In no particular order, let’s look at a few things. First, let’s consider pollution. There will be a state of the art coal fired generating plant to supply the power that the plant will need, so there won’t be any strain on the electrical grid. The plant will be equipped with the latest clean air technology to insure that pollutant levels are well below state clean air regulations. The height of the smokestack is to be 300 feet; the approximate height of the Irwin Hill area above the plant site, measured with global positioning equipment, is 150 feet. That means that the tip of the stack will be in the neighborhood of 150 feet above the houses on Irwin Hill. That puts any smoke that emanates from the stack well above any of the houses in the area. As far as pollution from smoke, how many homes and other businesses in the Curwensville area are heated with coal in a system that has no pollution control equipment? Taking that into consideration, I’ll wager that all that smoke collectively has far more pollutants in it than Sunnyside’s stack will put out. There are also oil furnaces and woodburners making smoke, too, but I’m not going to compare apples and oranges here.
Another concern is odor. Several months ago, I delivered a load of merchandise to a customer in South Bend, Indiana, down wind from an ethanol plant that, from all indications, is practically a mirror image of the facility to be constructed in Curwensville. I was there for close to 8 hours, and what I smelled was an odor akin to bread baking. I didn’t get sick; I got hungry. The smell that would emanate from an ethanol plant is a far cry from the odor that came from the tannery, and a lot more aesthetically pleasing.
The question of water supply was raised. In order for 1,600,000 gallons of water to be produced, the constant requirement for a 24 hour period is 1,111 gallons per minute. We have two engines in our fire department, the smaller of the two will supply 1,250 gallons per minute, and the larger, 1,500 gallons per minute. We can place both pumpers in the river at the same time, and as long as the lines are properly placed, the river supplies us with far more water than we need. As a matter of reference, those two pumpers can supply 3,960,000 gallons of water in a 24 hour period, and the river is not going to go dry.
Granted, there will always be some risk in any industry, and it becomes a question of what is acceptable. Given the current concerns, what would have been said when NARCO decided to build a plant in town? Or Clearfield Cheese (their refrigeration system used ammonia)? Or Howes Leather? When Kent Sportswear decided to locate here, there might very well have been concerns for people that might get injured by all those high speed sewing machines. Howes Leather did have a bit of a grizzly history when it came to injuries, but they stayed because the people wanted them to stay. The stone quarries of years ago might not have been welcome because some of the stones that were quarried weighed several tons each, and there was so much possibility of injury from equipment malfunction. I know that the projected releases from Sunnyside Ethanol are a concern to some, but they will be far below what is concerned even minimum acceptable levels. If I were that concerned about how dangerous it would be, I wouldn’t be considering applying for a job there when the plant opens.
While there won’t be a huge number of permanent jobs at the plant after it opens, how much more can we as a town afford to lose? As Mr. Wright noted in his letter, it will add approximately $300 million to the tax base in town, and it makes me wonder how that compares to the total tax base right now. With that kind of increase, Curwensville could see improvements like it has never seen before, not the least of which is the possibility of property tax reduction, and I have to tell you, I’m all for reducing my taxes. When you look at all the jobs that have left town since the 70’s (Clearfield Cheese, NARCO, Kent Sportswear, Howes Leather et al), you see over 1,000 jobs that have left a town of less than 3,000 people. That is one scary statistic, and I don’t want to see it get scarier. I won’t argue that the members of Citizens for a Clean Curwensville see their concerns as relevant, but the truth is, all that concern to me is akin to worrying about icebergs interfering with river traffic in New Orleans. In some strange environmental upheaval that would no doubt make the history books, it could be conceived, but it’s just not that likely.
There will be a considerable increase in rail and truck traffic in the area, but you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. The rail lines are already established, and will be acceptable with only a few modifications. Truck traffic will increase, but a large part of the traffic will be coming from Interstate 80, and if they are directed to get off at Exit 120 and then head to Curwensville, they won’t even be traveling through the business district. They’ll make the turn at the light by the Civic Center and proceed along the river to Cooper road and into the plant. It’s likely that a large part of the truck traffic into town will never even see the intersection of State and Filbert Streets.
All in all, given what I know from my own research, I welcome Sunnyside Ethanol with open arms, and I’m truly excited about their coming to town.