DALE — The Dale Town Council unanimously approved with no discussion Tuesday night industrial zoning for more than 500 acres recently annexed into the town.
Riverview Energy has proposed a $2.5 billion direct coal-hydrogenation plant for the land that sits north of Dale between County Roads 2000 North and 2100 North and the old U.S. 231 and County Road 500 East. According to Riverview Energy, “direct coal-hydrogenation is a unique clean-coal technology that uses pressure and hydrogen to convert coal into ultra-low diesel fuel.” The company has stressed that the process doesn’t burn or gasify coal and the plant would be a zero-waste unit.
Following Tuesday’s council meeting, Council President Ray Striegel said the land around the 500 acres is zoned industrial, so it didn’t make sense to zone the more than 500 acres anything else.
In addition to the council having no discussion on the topic at the Tuesday meeting before approving the zoning, it also didn’t open up the meeting to any public comment, which isn’t required by law. The council chamber was standing room only and included those for and against the Riverview project.
However, a public hearing on the land’s zoning — which was previously agricultural — was held on March 22 at the town’s Zoning Board meeting. The board voted 4-3 in favor of zoning it industrial, but not before several attendees spoke in opposition and several in favor of the project.
Those opposed have formed a group called Spencer County Citizens for Quality of Life and worry about the environmental aspects of the plant.
“It is about the results of toxic emissions and particulates that this finished project will have on the people who live in Dale and the surrounding area,” Dale resident Mary Hess said in a letter to the editor following the March 22 zoning board meeting.
John Blair, the leader of the Evansville-based environmental group Valley Watch, said Tuesday that the group is also concerned about the project’s economics.
Mike Falkenstein, business manager for Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 136, likes the economics he sees with the proposed project. Riverview has said the plant will bring “225 permanent high-skilled, good-paying jobs” and more than 2,000 construction jobs. Falkenstein said those 2,000 construction jobs would include about 1,500 members from his union.
He said the project would bring “jobs and the economic growth for Dale” and the “tax breaks would change the town’s outlook.”
Heather Gries, who lives just outside of Dale and owns land that Riverview is interested in purchasing, said Tuesday that she’s interested in the industry the project will bring.
“I want to see new industry come to the area,” she said. “I want to see more restaurants and housing and see Spencer County graduates come back to the area to make this area what it was 30 to 40 years ago.”
Gries said the Lincolnland Economic Development Corp. first approached the landowners about Riverview’s interest in early 2017.
Spencer County records show that seven landowners signed a memorandum of option agreement with Riverview in March 2017 saying that the parties had entered into an agreement with Riverview and that they would eventually sell the company the land if things like the annexation, zoning and permit process went through as planned.
Striegel said that if for some reason Riverview doesn’t come to Dale, the town has agreed that the land would no longer be annexed into the town and would go back to agricultural zoning.
He said the next step with the proposed project will be an Indiana Department of Environmental Management public hearing. The date for that hearing has not yet been set. Riverview Energy has submitted an air quality permit application to the state agency and it’s still in the initial processing stages, according to an air quality permit status search on IDEM’s website.
“As far as I’m concerned, that’s what we have IDEM for,” Striegel said. “They have the ultimate decision about it (the project).”