Oakwood Hills residents voice concerns about power plant project

CRYSTAL LAKE –The first public presentation of a proposed $450 million power plant was mostly met with concern and resistance from residents wanting to put a stop to the project before it progresses any further.

Representatives from joint project managers Enventure Partners and Northland Power set up informational stations at the Crystal Lake Holiday Inn on Tuesday for a four-hour open house designed to answer questions on water usage, pollution concerns and environmental effects the 430-megawatt, natural gas plant would have on the area.

Information on water usage plans, minimal noise and “negligible” pollutant and chemical emissions did little to ease the fear and anger of many residents.

“Everything looks nice, but I’m still very, very afraid,” said Oakwood Hills resident Kate Bieschke, who teaches at Prairie Grove Junior High. “My concerns were heard, but they were not addressed. It’s not that we’re trying to be negative but many people are afraid and still can’t get a handle on what’s really true.”

Opposition quickly grew after most residents heard about the project for the first time earlier in the month. A “Stop the Oakwood Hills Power Plant” Facebook page has more than 720 likes while an online fundraising campaign has brought in more than $4,100 in three days for potential attorney fees in fighting the project.

Project engineer Conrad Anderson said water usage is a chief concern for many residents, which is why a plan is being developed to use “gray” water from sewage treatment plants to help with the 1.5 million gallons of water per day the plant will need for cooling. The plan calls for 65 percent of the water source to come from treatment plants in the beginning and gradually increase to 100 percent as the capacity of those plants increase.

Information provided also detailed the community education center that will be part of the plant, the safety features such as the continuous flow of natural gas instead of storage of flammable materials that increases chances for explosions and the beautification of the site to prevent the plant from becoming an eyesore.

Presentation boards showed the noise would be less disturbing than a lawnmower from three feet away as there is a 50-decibel limit. Emissions such as lead compounds and mercury would be “negligible” compared to the Waukegan plant, according to developers.

Developers argue modern natural gas plants such as the one proposed for Oakwood Hills are needed because aging coal plants are shutting down and leaving northeastern Illinois with an energy supply shortage. Anderson said three of six coal plants have shut down and the others would likely follow soon.

Oakwood Hills, they said, is a desirable site because of proximity to existing overhead power lines and an existing natural gas line adjacent to the site.

Many residents did not believe the picture developers attempted to paint, including Dr. James Berg who said there are real health and environmental consequences.

Berg, an orthopedic surgeon for Centegra Health System, said people with asthma such as him and his son would have even more difficulty breathing and it would affect everyone’s lungs.

“They can say all they want but it’s a health issue and I’m deeply concerned,” he said. “I try to be emotionless as a physician, but it’s really hard for this.”

Project managers also said the energy center would be an economic engine for Oakwood Hills, bringing in a $1.3 million hosting fee and roughly $500,000 of property tax per year that would support schools.

But residents countered that as well, saying it would hurt property values. Christine Kraft, a Prairie Grove resident of 64 years, brought a 30-plus page study showing the drop in property values after energy plants are built. It showed values drop anywhere from 3 to 7 percent within a certain radius.

“What on earth are they going to do to compensate me?” Kraft said, noting she had planned to list her house in February. “Who would want to live in the shadow of a power plant?”

Other residents – many wearing red in protest of the project – walked from station to station asking the engineers and presenters whether they would want a power plant in their backyard and challenging the information about water preservation, pollution and noise control that was listed.

One resident, Rick Salvo, said he was still neutral on the project. Salvo, a school board member for District 46, will hear from project managers Wednesday at a school board meeting.

“I’m just here to learn,” Salvo said. “I still have some tough questions I need answered [Tuesday].”

Oakwood Hills will host a zoning hearing on the project at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Crystal Lake Holiday Inn on 800 S. Route 31. Even if the zoning board recommends the project, the Oakwood Hills Village Board would need to approve it before it could progress any further.

Despite a barrage of concerned and upset residents, project spokesman Joab Ortiz said he believed the process would work.

“We’re not working under any false pretenses, we know people have concerns and are worried,” Ortiz said. “But this is just the beginning of a long process. This is the first time we’ve been out here. We plan to keep communicating with the community.”

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