Despite public pleas for an independent environmental study, the Surry County Board of Supervisors on Thursday unanimously approved land-use permits that could bring the state's largest coal-fueled power plant to the rural county.
"It's not every day that a business like this knocks on the door of Surry County," said Supervisor Ernest Blount, moments before voting to approve Old Dominion Electric Cooperative's rezoning and conditional-use permit applications to build a landfill for coal ash and water intake facility on about 350 acres outside Dendron.
Those facilities would be part of the proposed Cypress Creek Power Station, a $6 billion coal-fueled power plant the company wants to build on 1,600 acres in and around the town of Dendron. Old Dominion is hoping to open the 1,500-megawatt plant by 2017.
The Dendron Town Council approved rezoning and conditional-use permits for 1,200 acres in town on Monday.
The revenue generated by Cypress Creek would be a shot in the arm for county coffers — and help lessen the county's dependence on taxes from individual property owners and the county's largest corporate taxpayer, Dominion Virginia Power, said Blount.
A standing-room-only crowd jammed the supervisors' chamber for Thursday's public hearing, where more than 60 people addressed county leaders. Most of the speakers — about 75 percent — opposed the project, with many imploring county officials to delay voting until a private environmental study could be conducted.
The meeting was nearly five hours long and didn't end until almost midnight.
The studies that will be done by various federal and state regulatory agencies, including the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Army Corps of Engineers, will ensure that the project will not be detrimental to the county, said Reginald Harrison, chairman of the Board of Supervisors.
Opponents said toxins, such as mercury and nitrogen, emitted by the plant would harm the environment and endanger the health of people living within a 30-mile radius of the site.
"Heavy metals exist, and there is no equipment to keep it out of the environment," said Surry County resident Sharon McCallister.
Supporters argued that the power plant would bring new jobs — thousands during the initial four-year construction phase — and much-needed tax revenue to the county. "We need more revenue," said Chelsea Jones. "Surry County cannot go forward without it."
Old Dominion proffered to give the county access to up to 2 million gallons of water per day, which could be a boon for future economic development ventures; to make road improvements to Route 31; and to donate $200,000 for improvements to the Surry County Library, according to planning director Rhonda Mack. The project would add approximately $22.2 million annually in tax revenue to county coffers, company officials said.
The county and town's approval of Old Dominion's permits means that federal and state agencies can begin their respective environmental and air quality testing, said company spokesman Jeb Hockman. As part of the permitting process, those agencies will hold additional public hearings in the community, he said.
What's next Now that the necessary permits from local governments are in hand, federal and state regulatory agencies can begin environmental impact studies on Old Dominion Electric Cooperative's coal-fueled power plant. Those agencies will be holding public meetings in the county as part of the approval process.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times