September 1, 2008

South Heart Broken Over Plant


DICKINSON - South Heart landowners and residents made a united, if unsuccessful, showing in Dickinson on Thursday, wearing bright yellow T-shirts to demonstrate opposition to a proposed coal dewatering plant five miles from their community.

The Stark County Planning and Zoning Commission approved zoning for GTL Energy of Colorado to build a $10 million technology plant about five miles southwest of South Heart.

GTL plans to import coal samples from around the county and the world and compress the water out of it to make it burn hotter and cleaner. It would dewater on a small scale - up to 300,000 tons a year - and market its dewatering technology to coal users as far away as China or as near as Beulah, after experimenting with their coals that come by truck or rail.

As part of the approval, the company will need to get all other permits, make sure the application meets legal muster and hold a public meeting at South Heart. The Stark County Commission will be the next stop for the application, which involves changing 40 acres of land from agricultural to industrial.

GTL official Robert French told the commission there would be no coal mining associated with the dewatering plant and virtually no emissions, except potable water.

"Our purpose is to make clean coal, and the best way is to remove the water," French said.

GTL's project was proposed on its own, but it's linked in people's thoughts with Great Northern Power Development, which has conditional zoning for a coal mine near the proposed dewatering plant.

Great Northern plans to mine more than 4 million tons of coal annually and use it to fuel a $2 billion coal gasification plant near South Heart. Other than zoning, the company has no permits or approvals for the mine or gasification plant yet.

The dewatering plant is a relatively small project in comparison. To the Neighbors United, who, wearing yellow, filled about half the chairs in the meeting room, it's something like the canary in the coal mine.

Great Northern has said it will invest in the dewatering plant, which would be right next to the proposed coal mine.

Old and young spoke against it.

Caroline Heidt, 76, of South Heart, said the land around South Heart is beautiful and productive. "Where would all the wildlife go? Let's conserve, not waste our natural resources," she said.

Heidt, 80, wore the same yellow T-shirt as Beth Hurt, 23.

Hurt said she planned to raise a family and grow old near South Heart, but she's having second thoughts with the talk of all the industrial development near her home.

"Now, leaving sounds better and better," Hurt said. "You need to keep our generation and don't chase us away."

Neal Messer, a spokesman for GTL, said the dewatering plant would provide up to 15 full-time jobs with the plant running at capacity, and 30 construction jobs.

He said locals could expect about two to three trucks an hour with the plant at full capacity. Messer said companies like Red Trail Energy, which produces ethanol in Stark County at Richardton, could use GTL's dewatering technology and switch back to lignite, rather than using imported coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming.

Neighbors United member Nancy Eberts told the commission to learn more about GTL Energy before approving the application.

"Make them accountable," she said. "Open your mind and your eyes and look ahead 15 years."

Frank Hurt of rural South Heart encouraged the zoners to say no - "keep this neighborhood safe for all of us to live around."

Neighbors United has been actively working to prevent industrial development near South Heart and has been a growing presence at meetings and hearings on South Heart development.

(Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 888-303-5511 or [email protected])

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