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Future of ReVenture Park permit hearings unclear

In a revelation that is angering environmentalists, the state is not required to hold public hearings before it awards an air-quality permit for ReVenture Park’s controversial waste-to-energy plant proposed for western Mecklenburg County.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be any hearings before the permit is awarded. Officials say it’s up to the director of the state’s air-quality division to decide whether to hold hearings, but it’s unclear how many requests it will take — and who will need to make them — before the director, Sheila Holman, can be persuaded to hold them.

Don Willard, director of Mecklenburg County Air Quality, expects there to be enough requests from the county’s residents to result in a hearing.

“I don’t think we (the county) will need to make that request, because there will be plenty of other requests,” Willard said.

Bill Gupton, chairman of the Central Piedmont Group of the North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club, is among those concerned about the permitting process and the chance that the project might sail through the process without any hearings. Initially, it was thought that the county would handle the permitting, but last month it was learned that the state would be in charge.

“That’s completely opposite of what we’ve been told for months,” Gupton said. “We’ve been told that the permit would be under the jurisdiction of Mecklenburg County and that it would be one of the most highly scrutinized air-quality permits in the history (of the county). We feel that this decision … that will impact our community for the next 20 years deserves a public hearing.”

Jennifer Roberts, chairwoman of the county commissioners, said a public hearing on the project is important and she will request one if needed.

“I think the public deserves an opportunity to weigh in on it,” she said. “I also think it’s an opportunity to educate folks who are concerned about it. I’m all for public hearings.”

Roberts’ request might be what it takes to win hearings, a comment from a state official suggests.

Tom Mather, spokesman for the North Carolina Division of Air Quality, said a request from a local governmental official carries more weight than one from a citizen. The permit applicant, in this case Forsite Development, could also request a public hearing.

Mather said Holman will base her decision “on how many requests we get and whether they are coming from local people. Sometimes we have certain groups request a hearing, but they might be on other side of the state.”

But requests for hearing cannot be made until the air-quality division receives the permit application from Forsite, Mather said. Once the application is received, it can be viewed on the state’s website, ncair.org.

The permitting process could take two to three months. More complex, large sources of emissions could take up to a year to gain approval.

State regulations require permits for a municipal waste incinerator to be handled by the state’s Division of Air Quality, Mather said. While no application has been received, many believe that the waste-to-energy plant will fall under that classification.

ReVenture Park involves a 667-acre Superfund site along the Catawba River on the former Clariant Corp. chemical plant site. Forsite wants to transform the site into the region’s first eco-industrial park that will include the biomass power plant, solar fields, incubator labs, wastewater treatment and reuse and research facilities.

Tara Ramsey can be reached at tara.ramsey@mecktimes.com.

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