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Residents voice concerns over Niles Energy Center at public hearing

NOW: Residents voice concerns over Niles Energy Center at public hearing

NILES, Mich. -  Right now, that billion-dollar energy plant is still scheduled to open in Niles in 2022, but whether the company is allowed to make changes in design, is still up in the air.

State officials held a public hearing to hear residents’ concerns before making their final decision on issuing a permit.

Although there was no permit decision Thursday, the state did listen to residents about their concerns like toxic air emission and noise. Either way, this plant is still opening.

“For us, the people who live close to this, we never wanted this,” Gabe Casey, a resident who lives just a mile away from the plant said.

Casey joined local residents Thursday night to voice their concerns about the billion-dollar Niles Energy Center that is already under construction, with plans to open in March 2022.

It will be located at the Niles Industrial Park off Progressive Drive.

The natural gas-fired plant is estimated to give Niles $25 million in tax revenue and bring 500 construction jobs and nearly two dozen permanent high skill positions.

But because of some changes to the construction, the state still has to approve a new permit.

“The turbine design from their manufacturer changed so they’re installing equipment. And the manufacturer changed the design of that equipment which modified the emissions which caused them to come back in and re-evaluate and re-permit,” Mary Ann Dolehanty, the Director of Air Quality Division for the State said.

That’s why they held an information session and a hearing to listen to what locals have to say.

While some agree with the addition.

“I am in full support of that,” One resident said.

Others worry about the plant’s impact on people and the environment.

“We are concerned about our health here in this area and we are concerned about the citizens in this area so they should have some kind of monitoring device throughout this area,” Larry Eckler, another resident, said.

“When the wind blows from the west to the east, it’s going to be my family and I who are going to be inhaling the brunt of these chemicals,” Casey said.

Although the new design changes will actually lower emissions, these high numbers are still causing concern for residents.

“I really have a hard time believing it’s not going to impact health. I’m not too sure too many people would believe that,” Casey said.

Other concerns have to do with noise and water pollution and if it will affect property values.

But will these public comments change anything?

“EGLE is by law not allowed to base our decision on whether or not there is widespread support or opposition for the modified plan,” One state representative said.

They will, however, consider comments when reviewing the proposal. State officials tell me once they review the comments, they will send out their decision in a couple of weeks.

If the company does not get this permit approved, they can still build everything that was listed in their last permit which was approved June of 2018.

The plant is set to open March 2022.

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