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Renovo residents speak out against proposed natural gas power plant

Justin Lynn was one of four speakers at Wednesday’s Renovo council meeting who raised concerns and asked questions about the proposed Renovo Energy Center. KEVIN RAUCH/FOR THE EXPRESS

RENOVO — The proposed Renovo Energy Center was a hot topic at Wednesday night’s Renovo Borough Council meeting. Although voices were often raised, overall the meeting was cordial.

Several members from the gallery brought up perceived issues, but for the majority of the time, council was silent, allowing the speakers to voice their concerns.

Gail Lutz, Sue Cannon, Justin Lynn and Maurene Ruhl each asked questions, if not reservations, they have that the plant would be too close to the town’s residents.

Lutz said she felt council should be open-minded, noting that during the rally held at the 16th Street Park several weeks ago, council openly stood on the side of what she said were the larger, more boisterous crowd. The Renovo woman said council should have empathy for all citizens and should be acting as a bridge between the two sides.

Former council member Sue Cannon was the only speaker to outright say she’s against the plant. Cannon said that the two to three tons of formaldehyde a year transmitted by the plant should be reason enough to not want it in the borough.

Lynn said that he left the area as a teenager but returned recently and has read many scientific studies on the issue. Lynn repeatedly said he follows and thinks the borough should follow the “the empirical data.”

Lynn read study after study from a portable device using the scientific data and numbers — several of which he claims came from John Hopkins studies. Lynn also based much of his dissertation on what he said is a nearly identical plant in Wawayanda, N.Y., imploring council to look into the problems he said the plant has brought to that community. He claimed the plant was pushed through by bureaucrats on the take.

Ruhl, who was representing “Residents for a Healthy Renovo,” first offered council a chance to discuss with her at some other time a third option, as opposed to being for or against the plant.

She asked if anyone from council or their families would personally benefit from the plant. Only council president Ann Tarantella offered an audible “no,” as again council spoke very little during this part of the meeting.

Eventually council member Rhonda Balchun — the most vocal council member on the subject — offered that she, along with council, have used the best data available from DEP and EAP studies as they have approved the findings. Balchun referred to a town meeting that was held several years back that would have been the best time for those concerned to ask many of the questions that they are now asking.

“I have not seen where any gas-powered plant in Pennsylvania is being asked to leave or shut down by their towns. We’re not perfect. I voted on the information that I have,” Balchun added.

It’s obvious that citizens like Ruhl and Cannon, who have had ongoing dialogue with council over their concerns regarding the plant, are spilling into current conversations. Balchun mentioned that Tom Emero, director of Innovative Power Solutions, has made numerous calls into previous council meetings to answer questions and no one from the community brought up concerns during those opportunities. The remark was made as some of the arguments against the plant have centered on accusations of the community not being in the know of the gas plant.

It appears that council fully supports the plant, but felt it was best to let the residents speak their minds. At one point near the end of the discussion nearly all council members made “I completely support the plant” comments. It was the only time several of them spoke during the discussion.

Grant advisor Kari Kepler spoke during the most heated part of the conversation and did cool the room rather quickly. Kepler showed maps explaining that the property where the plant is being installed is owned by Renovo Rail and is zoned industrial. She went on to say that council may not have the power that the four speakers feel they have in regard to what Renovo Rail does with its private property.

Kepler also referred to the previous meetings, saying the project has actually exceeded some studies from DEP, making it the right decision for council to support it — particularly considering the town’s declining infrastructure.

In other business:

Last month council promised to put more strength into borough ordinances and violations of them, but a report on the progress came up with the fact that it’s still a work in progress.

Council member Pattie Rauch, who was given permission along with fellow council member John Simon to look into making ordinance violations stiffer, met with Renovo police officer Victor Foley who also serves as the town’s ordinance officer.

Rauch wanted to dissolve the Quality of Life ordinance guide as many council members feel it allows repeat offenders too much leeway with a $25 fine being the maximum amount charged for most continuous violations.

At Wednesday’s meeting Officer Foley said that he feels the Quality of Life does work 70 percent of the time. Foley said of the other 30 percent it’s often out-of state-property owners who do not respond to any type of correspondence.

And then it was property owner Joe Marino’s who asked to speak on another topic.

Marino asked if anything can be done in regards to people living in and hauling things into houses on 4th Street that are in repository sale. Council told him “no,” that it would be up to the county at that point and the borough has no jurisdiction on houses that have entered repository status.

Marino then asked about unlicensed/uninspected vehicles that have sat on the streets for months, namely three near 4th Street presumably owned by the same person. Again council said there is no easy answer.

Reasons such as a tow truck hauling the vehicle away was damaged in the process, the borough did not want to be liable were given. They also offered that finding a tow company to take a vehicle whose title was not easily found can prove challenging. Simon and Rauch were told to go back to the drawing board on all things ordinance related.

The need for more police officers was also mentioned and according to Renovo Police Chief Richard Simpson no applicants have been received from online search engines. Renovo has not had a full-time officer since the first week of March when Corporal Mike Jeffries was placed on administrative leave, which eventually led to a decision between him and the borough to part ways after some type of settlement was reached a couple of months later.

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