Audience members expressed mixed reactions toward what they heard during the Terre Haute City Council’s special meeting on the proposed Powerdyne sludge-to-diesel project on Thursday night.
Following the 90-minute meeting at the City Hall court room, some members of the packed house walked away approving the project led by California-based company to convert the city’s sewage sludge and other materials into diesel fuel. Others walked away with more questions.
“I don’t see anything wrong with it [Powerdyne project],” said Keith Mowbray, a Terre Haute police officer. “I think it’s going to make money for the city” and bring jobs to the people, the 28-year city employee added.
But others said they didn’t quite hear the answers they were looking for, despite the presentation given by Powerdyne President Geoff Hirson, who traveled from California for the meeting.
One of them was former city engineer Pat Goodwin, who, in early November, launched the THINQ Terre Haute Facebook page, which provides a public forum for discussion about the project. “Still no questions answered,” Goodwin said after the meeting. “I was hopeful, with Mr. Hirson here, that he would explain things, but instead, we got a history lesson. No specifics,” he added.
Goodwin, who served as city engineer under Bennett’s predecessor, Kevin Burke, and for other mayors, still has concerns moving forward. After the meeting, he distributed a document entitled, “Calculations Regarding Converting Organic Wastes into Diesel Fuel.”
“The biggest concern I have is the contracts are terrible and they put the city at risk,” Goodwin said. He thinks that if one result of the meeting is starting over with the contracts, “that would be a step in the right direction.”
“The public should get to see these [contracts] before they’re signed,” he added.
During his presentation and the question-and-answer period that followed, Hirson talked about the company, the process used to convert sludge (and other materials) to diesel, and the project’s benefits to the city. After questions were raised about the city’s ability to supply enough sludge for the process, he clarified that other “feedstock” or materials from other areas would be used, not just the city’s wood waste and sludge.
“We know now that there are going to be other feedstocks from somewhere else, but we don’t know what it is and where it’s coming from,” Goodwin said.
These same questions were raised by two other community members: Jane Morse and Eileen Prose.
“What Mr. Hirson said was very slick and very well-presented. It sounds good when you first look it over, but I really do think there are still a lot of serious questions,” Morse said in a brief interview after the meeting. “And he seems to be unable to answer them.”
If the city’s sludge is only a small percentage of what will be used in the process, as Hirson said in the meeting, Morse wants to know what else is going to be used and where it would come from.
“And what kind of traffic is going to be on our roads hauling it in?” she asked.
“I understand he has his contracts,” Morse said, “but we’re citizens of this community, and I think we have some right to know what’s going to be on our roads.”
Prose believes that Hirson tried to address certain concerns by confirming that there will be no odor as a result of the process, and by stating that he was willing to take out wood/green waste as one of the feedstock sources that the city has to contribute per the contract, if the city does not agree with it.
“I think he was trying to appease a lot of people that had that concern, but there are deeper concerns as it relates to those” contracts signed and the financial consequences to the city, Prose said. The Board of Public Works approved several related contracts in May and July 2014.
“What happened today is it just opened more questions for me,” she said. Both Morse and Prose hoped that the City Council would get their questions answered.
Council President John Mullican said the meeting was a “first attempt” to get information and get caught up with details of the project. “I think that probably everybody heard something new,” Mullican said, but “at this point, there are a lot of questions about the contracts” and agreements, he added.
Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribstarDianne.