ROCKPORT — The Spencer County Commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday in favor of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management approving Riverview Energy’s air permit application.
The vote was 2-1.
The commissioners room on the second floor of the Spencer County Courthouse was standing-room-only with people both for and against the proposed $2.5 billion direct-coal hydrogenation project that would convert 1.6 million tons of coal and produce 4.8 million barrels of clean diesel and 2.5 million barrels of Naphtha each year.
The plant is proposed for more than 500 acres annexed into the north side of Dale last year.
The air permit is currently a draft and has not yet been approved by IDEM. It was released to the public late last month, marking the start of a public notice period that ends Dec. 10.
During that time, people may submit written comments on the proposal to IDEM. They must be postmarked or emailed no later than Dec. 10. Information on how to do so can be found here: https://permits.air.idem.in.gov/39554d.pdf.
IDEM will host a public hearing — where public comments will also be documented — on the draft permit from 5:30-7:30 p.m. CT Dec. 5 at the Heritage Hills High School auditorium in Lincoln City.
Many people have spoken out in support of the plant for economic reasons, while those opposed cite health and environmental concerns.
In the draft air permit, IDEM says that the plant will not have a significant impact on air quality and overall health in the region. While the plant will release pollutants, according to the draft permit, modeling shows the pollution within national standards.
Commissioner Tom Brown said that’s why he voted in favor of IDEM approving the permit.
“I can only make a decision on the data we have,” he said, adding that nobody wants pollution and that’s why there are agencies like IDEM.
“All businesses pollute to some degree,” he said. “That’s why we have standards.”
Commissioners President Jim Seiler voted in favor because he’s “pro business for our electricians and construction workers.” He said the construction of the Riverview plant will provide several years of work to those professions.
Riverview has said in the past that the plant will bring the area “225 permanent high-skilled, good-paying jobs” and more than 2,000 construction jobs.
Commissioner Al Logsdon voted against the resolution, saying it’s IDEM’s decision to make.
“I don’t think it’s right for anybody to try to influence a government agency to approve a permit,” he said.
Prior to the vote, Mary Hess, a Dale resident and leader of the Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life group opposed to the plant, stood in front of the commissioners and voiced concerns about the health and environmental impact of the project.
The group — backed by local residents, doctors, farmers and engineers — has circulated a petition with more than 1,400 signatures opposing the plant.
While addressing the commissioners, Hess asked for a resolution for Brown to recuse himself from the commissioners’ vote since he sits on the Lincolnland Economic Development Board and the LEDC recruited Riverview to Spencer County.
No resolution was made on the matter.
Hess added that the proposed Riverview project and the Town of Dale’s decision to continue seeking the project has divided the community like it has never been divided before.
Chuck Botsko of Gentryville reiterated that after the commissioners’ 2-1 vote. He compared it to the Dale Zoning Board’s 4-3 vote earlier this year to rezone the land proposed for the Riverview project from agricultural to industrial.
“It showed the split [on the issue] within the town” he said. “Here in the county, two commissioners vote for and one against, showing the split again.”