Darren Doyle, story and photos:
Area residents near the new Hellervik Gas Plant location are pushing back against the oil company as several citizens in opposition to the plant attended the Edmonson County fiscal court meeting today at the courthouse.
Mr. Jim Brown, field representative for the company, addressed questions at today's meeting from residents who wanted answers.
Steven Miller, son of Steve and Debbie Miller, whose property is next door to the proposed site, spoke on his parents' behalf to both the court and to Mr. Brown.
"When we were here a couple of months ago, there were a couple things we discussed. One, we wanted to have a community meeting with Hellervik and we've heard no response to that," Miller said. "We also asked for the nearest location where we could go see and hear what's going to be brought into our county and community, and we've heard no response to that. We also said we were going to push and petition, and we've done just that, and about a month ago we've uploaded a petition on change.org and it's public, anybody can search it, just go to change.org and search "Hellervik," and in less than a month, over 200 signatures have been acquired on that petition."
He said the breakdown of the signatures were as follows:
Miller continued and said that the group wasn't opposing Hellervik coming to Edmonson County, however; they were adamant about opposing the facility's location anywhere near a residential area. Miller also said the group is asking for proof, data, and documentation that can show there will be no negative effects on the community.
Specifically, a portion of the the petition says:
On multiple occasions, Hellervik has given the impression that they want to be good community neighbors. We, the people of the community, ask that Hellervik maintain that commitment by taking the following action:
"We're asking that this gas plant be moved away from our residences," he said. "Natural gas plants have no place in our community."
Miller said the outpouring from the community has been phenomenal in favor of the opposition group and have started a Facebook page, EC Community Partners. Miller said the group was formed to help keep industries from having negative impacts on communities. He said the group had just over 100 members.
Brown answered very few questions directly and told Miller and others in attendance that he was only a field rep, which wasn't qualified to answer all questions but would rely this information to the gas plant operation team in North Dakota.
Miller's main concern to the fiscal court was why is the proposed location of the facility in the middle of a residential area when Hellervik said it would be in a "127 acre densely wooded area that will house the plant right in the middle of the property," according to plant general manager Gary Minard, as quoted in an Edmonson Voice article from August 30, 2016.
Brown reminded Miller that the facility hadn't been built yet, and the 8 acre parcel that Hellervik purchased earlier is only a portion of the 127 acre farm that Brown said the company has the right to purchase if more land is necessary to complete the project. He advised that the area developed so far was simply a road and a large gravel lot that is a proposed site, but not necessarily the final site.
Others in attendance asked if Hellervik would simply buy the remaining property and move the location back into the woods, away from area homes, to which Brown said that is a possibility.
Brown said much of the same things that he's said in regular fiscal court meetings, such as: the federal, state, and EPA regulations that are difficult to follow, make a hazardous operation virtually impossible.
"We've been here for three years," Brown said. "We had a public meeting in August where we showed our plans and we used the local media to promote that and we even had a dinner, and four people showed up."
Brown said Hellervik's plan was to hold an open community meeting to address concerns and answer specific questions about the operation of the plant before construction was completed.
Several more specific questions were asked about the plant's operation but Brown said he was not qualified to answer. He did however, say that he would relay the concerns and provide answers to the public.
Judge Executive Wil Cannon advised that no industrial zoning in Edmonson County allowed Hellervik or any other company to put a business anywhere they chose. He also said anytime any sort of zoning discussion was brought up over the years, the community strongly stood against it because no one wants to be told what they can or can't do with their property.
Cannon spoke to area residents in attendance.
"On behalf of fiscal court, we're concerned with all of your safety concerns. We'd rather have safety than economic growth. But, we're also concerned about economic growth. We want companies to come to Edmonson County, we want people to be hired and work here the county. We want all these good things to happen to our people, but not at the expense of anyone being in an unsafe situation or having property values lowered. I think these are all good questions and I think Hellervik will answer these questions."
Cannon said he felt like it was likely that the plant could moved back further into the woods, but reminded the court and visitors that the decision would be entirely up to Hellervik.
"We are not providing any industrial bonding for the project although it was discussed at one time," he said. "The county has no connection with Hellervik. They're simply a company that wants to come to Edmonson County to do business."