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April 24, 2014

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Quantum leap or pollution pit? Concerns over trash-to-energy plant coming to a head in NLV

Residents will have a chance to voice their concerns at a meeting next month

Share your opinion with officials

What: Community meeting with the city and EnviroPower Renewables

When: 6:30 p.m. March 12

Where: Dickens Elementary School, 5550 Milan Peak St.

An innovative plan to turn trash into electricity has left the city of North Las Vegas facing a careful balancing act.

On one side is a major economic development opportunity for the struggling city — a proposed $115 million plant that would provide 280 new jobs.

But on the other side are concerns about air pollution, odor, traffic and noise from residents who live near the proposed site at Lone Mountain and Losee roads, and don’t want the facility near their homes.

At the heart of the issue is a plant that would convert waste into electrical power through a process known as gasification. The process involves cooking tires and construction waste at extremely high temperatures, converting the waste to gas. The gas then would be burned to power a steam turbine that generates electricity. Gasification isn’t a new process, and there are smaller operations that use similar technology, but the scope of the North Las Vegas plant would make it groundbreaking.

City staff and the planning commission approved the plans late last year but hit a snag at a City Council meeting this month when neighbors showed up in force to voice their concerns, urging officials to relocate the project 25 miles away at the Apex Landfill.

“It just seems like the wrong place. There are 1,100 homes a half-mile west of the proposed site,” said Chris McCullough, an attorney for the Meldrum Family Trust, which owns vacant land surrounding the proposed plant and formally appealed the planning commission’s decision.

About the proposed plant

Details

• Would operate around the clock

• Would process up to 1,000 tons of waste per day

• Would generate 48 megawatts of electricity (enough to power 10,000 to 15,000 homes)

• Ash created as a byproduct would be converted into slag (used in construction work)

Concerns

• Possibility of odors and air pollution

• Possibility of noise pollution and increased traffic

• Thousands of homes nearby

Also located nearby are several schools and the Shadow Creek golf course owned by MGM Resorts International, which has not objected to the plant.

McCullough and other residents in the area are concerned about air pollution from the facility and its effect on the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as noise pollution from dozens of trucks traveling to the facility each day.

EnviroPower Renewables Inc., the Florida-based company planning to build and run the plant, promises a safe, unobtrusive and clean operation that exceeds Environmental Protection Agency standards. Traffic traveling on nearby Craig Road creates more noise pollution than the plant would, CEO Leonardo Riera said, while trucks transporting waste the extra distance to Apex would generate more air pollution than the entire plant operation.

The Clark County Department of Air Quality is reviewing documents submitted by EnviroPower Renewables but hasn’t yet ruled whether the plant will meet its standards.

McCullough said that any added pollution in such a populated area is too much.

“The applicant is fond of saying that’s 1/1000th of the EPA standard,” McCullough said, “but that’s still 100 tons of pollutants every year.”

Riera said residents often confuse the novel technology behind the gasification plant with older incineration plants, which indiscriminately burn waste and put out more pollutants. Gasification uses high heat but a low amount of oxygen, which vaporizes the waste but releases fewer pollutants.

Still, residents are skeptical and want more answers, something the city and EnviroPower Renewables hope to offer at a March 12 community meeting.

Riera is confident residents will be more comfortable with the plan once they learn more, and if he’s right, the City Council could vote to approve a special use permit for the project a subsequent meeting March 19.

“I think it’s extremely important that we have a chance to hear all sides of this issue”, said Councilman Isaac Barron, who represents the area. “There, the applicant will have a chance to state their side, anyone opposed will also have a chance to state their side and maybe we’ll also have people who have an expert opinion who will be able to bring that in.”

The size and scope of the plant worry residents who don’t want to be a test case and suffer any unforeseen consequences.

The proposed site is in an industrial zone and meets all of the city’s basic requirements, but council members have the discretion to deny the permit if it doesn’t fit in with the surrounding area or poses health concerns for residents in the vicinity.

Although it might seem that vaporizing trash is a sure way to create a stinky situation, Riera said organic waste would not be processed at the facility, minimizing the smell in the surrounding area.

But residents are especially aware of the potential for unintended and smelly side effects from major projects. When a new wastewater treatment plant opened in 2011, officials insisted the water discharged from the plant wouldn’t smell, but residents along the Sloan Channel where it drained complained of foul odors and hordes of bugs.

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