The Rocky Hill Fire Department was packed to standing room-only Thursday night as District 3 Magistrate Clark Wood hosted a town hall meeting to discuss the future of the Rocky Hill Gas Plant. Representatives from two different companies competing to purchase the plant were in attendance to address the crowd, Jim Brown, the KY Field Operations Manager for Hellervik Oil Technologies, and Jeff Casey, Owner of Onyx Exploration and Clipper Energy Supply.
Mr. Brown was asked to speak to the crowd first, as it was Judge Executive Wil Cannon who asked him the first question regarding Hellervik's noise reduction plan. Brown discussed vibration isolators designed for equipment like that of the plant's that would reduce noise along with other measures, such as enclosing the plant's compressors, but said his company wouldn't pursue that until they know they're going to be the purchasers.
The questions kept coming, and Mr. Brown kept doing his best to answer them, however, citizens weren't having any of it. "It's a loud whining noise," one man said. "The residue on our homes and cars is awful," said another. "It makes the damnedest racket you ever heard!" shouted another man.
One couple spoke up and said that they had moved to the community a few years ago, but had they known about the noise and problems with the plant they would have never done so.
Local resident Sandra Beckner asked Brown if his company ran other plants that were in the middle of other communities. "No," he said. "Not in the middle of communities."
The floor was soon turned over to Mr. Jeff Casey, and no one rolled out a red carpet for him, either. Casey said that his plan called for reducing noise and emissions and improving the way electricity is delivered to the plant. He said he also planned to reduce electricity consumption, which would also help reduce the noise. Mrs. Beckner said, "You can say whatever you want with a smile, but there's no guarantee you'll do what you'll say."
Casey said his company is no longer seeking industrial revenue bonds from the county, and that running the plant would not be profitable at first. One woman said, "Then there's something we're missing, because you wouldn't take such a risk." Casey said that when the price of gas increases, the plant would again become profitable. "Profitable for your company," the woman said. "Not us citizens."
Mrs. Yvonne Campbell then asked if it was too late for zoning in Edmonson County. One woman was heard saying "Did you see the Edmonson Voice Poll? 76% of the people want zoning!" Judge Cannon answered by saying he'd seen the poll, but there was currently no ordinances in place, but if people demanded zoning, he could see that it was placed on a fiscal court agenda, discussed, and possibly voted on, but in the future. "I'm not completely against some kind of zoning," he said. "I'm against sloppy ordinances. We have to research other counties with similar issues and make sure the language is clear and we have a way to enforce it, otherwise, we're wasting our time."
One resident asked Mr. Casey, "If you lived here would you want this?" Casey replied by saying no, he'd probably be on the citizens' side. Another woman accused Casey of not answering anything for certain, but Casey said he really couldn't until his company can purchase the plant. "I think we have a lot to think about after this meeting," he said.
After the meeting adjourned, we asked Magistrate Clark Wood how he felt about the meeting. "Well, we all voiced our ill feelings," he said. "They answered a few questions, but some of them got side-stepped, I believe." He said the whole process has been frustrating to him and the entire district. "This thing was put in during the last administration before I came here (as magistrate). The plant was already under construction before I knew what it was, and that was 7 or 8 years ago." When asked about the possibility of zoning, Wood answered, "I wouldn't mind exploring zoning as far as certain types of businesses go."
Jeff Casey said he was surprised at the amount of opposition he saw at the meeting. "I think all this can be solved," he said. "We'll do our best to make it where it's not a nuisance to people. I don't like to be a nuisance." Casey said he understands why the community has concerns, and that he should know if his company will be the new owner of the plant by sometime next week. He also said that he'd have the plant operating in 4-6 months if he purchases it.
"The people that are trying to buy this gas plant are starting to realize what they're up against as far as the population in this area," said Judge Cannon. "They're starting to realize that it's not going to be an easy transaction and that the folks are even considering suing whoever buys it." When asked if it was frustrating for the county government to have virtually no control over the situation, he said. "Frustrating? It makes me sick, really. We're dealing with something that could be huge safety issues, long-term health issues, property values going down, a bed and breakfast that depends on peace and quiet. That's why we as county officials have to do everything we can to protect them, but we don't have a lot of tools in our bag."