Consider power plant from regional perspective

Published 6:56 am Saturday, January 30, 2010

As a 10-year member of the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors, I realize the importance of economic growth and prosperity for our community.

And as a resident of the Hampton Roads region, I believe we must work together to ensure the continued prosperity of our entire region while protecting the health of the citizens with whom we live and work with every day.

Currently, the region is faced with the possibility of a new coal-fired electric power plant proposed by the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative to be located in the Town of Dendron and Surry County. Although, some of our Surry neighbors to the west might be excited about the possibility of a power plant in their county, I believe they may have allowed their excitement to neglect the genuine concerns of other residents of Surry County, Isle of Wight County and the rest of Hampton Roads over the plant’s harmful impacts.

Specifically, I believe the Surry County Planning Commission abrogated its responsibility to protect the citizens of the region by passing a recommendation to move forward with the power plant without first doing any independent studies and only with the bare minimum of requirements in the conditional use permits. At this time, it appears the Surry County Board of Supervisors and the Dendron Town Council may do the same thing.

As proposed, the plant will send millions of pounds of air pollution, including particulates (soot), nitrogen and mercury into the air not only over Surry County but beyond, threatening the health of the residents of the entire region. In Isle of Wight County, this could increase health care costs in a county where approximately 30 percent of residents already seek health care through free clinic services in the region.

We have seen proposals for coal-fired electrical generation in this region before. Isle of Wight County faced a similar proposal for a power plant in our county a number of years ago. However, the company that proposed that facility, Duke Power, was more than willing to work with the county to perform the appropriate studies at their own expense to better understand the environmental, human health, and economic consequences of such a plant.

From my perspective, certain members of the Dendron Town Council and Surry County Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission have decided that a few jobs and tax revenues are more important than the right of our citizens to breathe safely and to catch and eat fish from local waterways without worrying about mercury poisoning of their children.

I have serious concerns about the future health and longevity of the people of Isle of Wight County, all of whom live on the cusp of this coal plant’s pollution. We and our children will be eating, drinking and breathing the mercury and ingesting the particulate matter the plant emits. As a region, we should insist that the Surry County Board of Supervisors and the Town of Dendron do what the Surry Planning Commission did not do: Insist that ODEC fund an independent study at its expense showing the environmental, health, and economic impacts of the proposed coal-fired power plant. For the safety and well-being of the region, we need to speak up and let Dendron and Surry know how concerned we are.

I also wonder how the massive amounts of air pollution from the coal plant will harm our region’s ability to meet new air quality standards for Hampton Roads. Based on the information available, it seems likely the plant’s pollution will interfere not only with Isle of Wight’s future economic development plans, which have become more urgent with the closure of the International Paper Co. plant in Franklin, but also those of the entire region.

For these reasons, the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors recently voted unanimously to ask Surry County and Dendron to halt all action on the proposed plant and conduct independent studies to address the region’s valid and important concerns.

The proposed power plant will have regional impacts, and must be considered from a regional standpoint. That’s the prudent thing to do, the neighborly thing to do and the best thing to do.