Several Rocky Hill-area residents attended Monday's Fiscal Court meeting and expressed their opposition to anyone purchasing the existing Rocky Hill Gas Plant, currently owned by Atmos Energy. Jeff Casey, a representative of Onyx Exploration, addressed the court and explained his company's intentions of purchasing the plant and requested three million dollars in industrial revenue bonds from the county.
At the last meeting, the fiscal court voted to proceed with the bonding of Hellervik Oil Technologies in the event that they completed the purchase from Atmos. Onyx, a completely separate company, and essentially a competitor, discussed some of the same plans that Hellervik reps had done in previous meetings. Onyx's representative, Jeff Casey, didn't receive a warm welcome.
Wayne Childress, a resident who lives directly across the road from the plant, asked Casey if Onyx purchased the plant, would there be anything done to help with the noise pollution beforehand. Casey said his plan would be to start the plant first, but have the sound control project completed within 6 months. Childress still seemed unsatisfied. He said his cattle were scared to the back of his property and that it took a week before they came back. "Anytime you can hear machinery running 3 or 4 miles away...what would you do?" Childress asked.
Another resident, Phillip Crews, also spoke of the noise pollution. "I've been in construction all my life," he said. "You can put silencers on those machines, and I know what I'm talking about." Casey responded by asking "Oh, you can?" Crews seemingly became more agitated. "Yeah, you sure can!" Casey laughed and said "Well, I'll talk to you about that later." Maybe he actually wanted to speak with Mr. Crews about it, or maybe he was trying to be sarcastic, but either way, it didn't go over well with citizens. "It's not funny," said one woman.
Another citizen said no matter what type of sound control any company tried to do, it wouldn't matter. "I worked for General Motors for 30 years," he said. "I know what kind of noise these machines make. What ya'll are proposing to do won't do any good." He continued and said that he and his wife could barely sleep at night when the plant was previously running because of the constant roaring of equipment
One man said "When the plant was in operation, if I didn't know better, I'd swear there was a freight train coming." Another resident, Maurita Miller, pointed out that not only was the noise unbearable, but that the plant put off emissions that left a sticky residue on people's property. "Who's going to be responsible for when people start getting sick?"
Casey said, "It almost sounds like the plant needs to be moved."
"Excellent!" One lady said. "That's the only good thing you've said today," said another man.
District 6 Magistrate Mark Woosley spoke up. "We understand your concerns," he said. "But someone's going to buy it and we're not trying to slip anything in. The fiscal court is not buying the plant." One resident accused District 3 Magistrate Clark Wood of not holding town hall meetings like he said he would. Mag. Wood said he did in fact try to hold a meeting, but no one showed up.
The situation began to heat up, then Judge Cannon spoke up. "We don't take sides with companies, period," he said. "The first thing we want to do is protect our citizens. This is a very tough situation because someone can buy this plant with or without the fiscal court." He pointed out that the court has already voted on moving forward with the industrial bonding with Hellervik Oil. "Hellervik has been trying to work with this county for the last 6 weeks," Cannon said to Jeff Casey. "This is the first time we've ever laid eyes on you."
It is important to emphasize one thing that Cannon pointed out. Anyone with enough money can purchase the plant without anyone's approval. Edmonson County does have a planning commission, but there are no zoning requirements here. Both Onyx and Hellervik, or anyone else for that matter can purchase this plant, or frankly, purchase any piece of land anywhere in the county and put another plant on it. Without zoning, there is no way around it. This is obviously the big disadvantage to not having zoning, however, most county residents still oppose it.
"Revenue for the county is great, but the most important thing is to protect our citizens," Cannon said.
Cannon said that the court is waiting for the bond covenant with Hellervik (or the contract) to be drawn up and inspected by an attorney that specializes in bonding to make sure there is zero liability to the county. No further action was taken with the Onyx company at the meeting.
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