ROGERS CITY - The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality hosted what should be the final public hearing involving the proposed Wolverine coal-fired power plant in Rogers City. About 300 people filled the Rogers City High School gymnasium, many of whom were seeking answers to questions related to air emissions.
DEQ Chief of Air Permitting Vince Hellwig, who will be the person who ultimately determines whether the permit to install is issued, said only emission questions and comments would be added to the record. He said other comments will be listened to, but they wouldn't influence his decision for the permit.
"The purpose of this hearing is to take questions on greenhouse gas and to the best available control technology," Hellwig said. "There was some modeling done for two pollutants, and we wanted the public to have an opportunity to look at that and comment on that as well. The other areas of the permits we have already dealt with and been through public comment, so this is really all the comment we will consider as far as this project."
State and federal politicians also read prepared statements. Congressman Dan Benishek, State Sen. Howard Waker and State Rep. Pete Pettalia each explained why they support the construction of the controversial plant.
"We are reaching a point of concern for Michigan's energy future," Pettalia said. "New regulations and aging infrastructure mean the loss of base load power that will hamper our ability to recover from our recession.There is no doubt the path to economic recovery in Michigan will be partly dependent on access to affordable power. In order to reach that level, our state requires the construction of new power generation facilities and provide state-of-the-art technologies."
There also were many opponents on hand who voiced concern about how the emissions would affect the health of those who live in the area, as well as what the company will charge its customers. Lee Sprague, who sits on the Tribal Council of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, said the more technological the plant is, the more costly it is to run. He said the current high cost of gas and other energy will force Wolverine to push higher rates on its customers.
"They are committing themselves to a dying fuel source that will cost them a lot to have transported here," Sprague said. "Coal is cheaper to buy in the western states, but the cost for them to have it shipped here is going to be costly. Why have none of the politicians mentioned the 60 percent increase in cost for the customer? It would be like instead of paying one electric bill a month, it would be like three. I want to know why they failed to mention that."
The permit to install appears to be the last hurdle for Wolverine to clear in order to build the facility. Hellwig said he hopes to have the matter decided one way or another soon.
"We anticipate closure soon," Hellwig said. "Following the hearing we consider the testimony and public comment, and then as a decision maker, I will render a decision. Depending on the level of comments, the details of the comments, and the time to do a response document, that will determine how much longer it will take. I don't anticipate it taking a very long time, but we do have to go through the comments and make sure we rewind to those."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.