MORRISTOWN, Ind. (AP) — Residents are rallying against plans by Omaha energy company Tenaska to build a $500 million power plant in their community.
Dozens of people packed a town council meeting Wednesday night to voice their concerns about the plant’s possible impact on property values, water well levels, air quality and added noise in the central Indiana town.
Tenaska is considering building the natural gas-fueled power plant on 98 acres in an industrial park on the far east side of Morristown.
It’s uncertain whether plans will actually become reality. But tension has been building in recent weeks, with nearly 100 “Stop Tenaska” signs dotting the community. Town council meetings have become tense, and disputes have ensued over social media and whether the public can record open meetings of the town council.
At Wednesday night’s meeting, Helen Manroe, a development director for Tenaska, said an industrial park would provide a buffer between the homes and the plant. The 1,200-person town lies about 20 miles southeast of Indianapolis.
The company hasn’t yet decided whether to build the plant or when construction would start, Manroe said.
“It takes a long time to put one of these plants together,” she said. “It’s like a big puzzle, and you have to put all the pieces together and it’s very complicated.”
Resident Scott Downing said he doesn’t think the power plant fits with the rural community.
“This is an agricultural area, it’s not an industrial area,” he told WISH-TV.
Tenaska estimates that hundreds of construction workers would be needed to build the plant, which would have about 25 full-time jobs.
Manroe said Tenaska is considering other sites for the project, but Morristown’s available rail lines and power grid access make it a top contender.
“We’ve developed 16 power plants across the United States and we’ve never had people come back to us and say your plant hurt our property values,” Manroe told WRTV.
The highly anticipated meeting drew an overflow crow at Morristown’s town hall and protests beforehand.
There are more than 270 followers on the “Stop Tenaska Power Plant” Facebook page.
Sara Goedde, one of the neighbors leading the charge against the plant, said last week that she hopes the public becomes educated on how the plant could affect the community.
“All we want to do is put information out,” Goedde said. “It’s a tiny town, it’s only 1,200 people, and there’s still people that don’t know anything about it.”
Goedde and her husband, Kirby, have lived in Morristown 13 years with their three daughters. The proposed facility would be directly behind their rural home, and Goedde worries about noise, light and the impact on water.
Manroe said last week that while original plans called for 8 million gallons of water a day, the company now is considering a dry-cooling system where only a few hundred thousand gallons of water are used daily.
But for Goedde, whose property includes a lake, the switch to a dry-cooling system is questionable.
“We don’t know what we’re getting into. We don’t even know what that is,” she said.
The proposal has not only raised red flags when it comes to Tenaska, Goedde said, but it has also increased tension between residents and town officials.
Goedde filed a formal complaint with the Indiana public access counselor last month, after the town council voted to ban audience members from recording meetings.
The council has since rescinded the rule, realizing it was against the state’s Open Door Law. Still, Goedde said she was shocked members would even consider it. And she said she is also frustrated her comments on the town’s Facebook page have been removed.
Ralph Henderson, town council president, said the council passed the rule banning recordings last month after the public got out of hand at a meeting. He said the council rescinded it at the following meeting when members realized it was violating state law.
Henderson said town officials need to learn more details about the plant before even thinking about granting tax benefits for Tenaska.
“You’ve got to look at what’s best for the town, like anything,” he said.