Fibrowatt burning bridges?


First Posted: 4/1/2010

Earlier this week, Surry Countys increasingly strained relationship with Fibrowatt grew even more estranged after the board of commissioners voted to withdraw its offer of financial incentives aimed at luring the alternative fuel manufacturer to the county.
That action comes nearly two years after the firm announced plans to build near Elkin a plant which would burn chicken litter and other renewable biofuel waste products to generate electricity, promising an investment of $140 million and 80 new jobs for the county.
At the time, that announcement was greeted with much fanfare because the county had been courting Fibrowatt for some time.
Nearly a year later, protesters began to surface. We questioned some of those protesters then, and we still do. Some of those early rabble-rousers were claiming quality of life would be lessened in the area around the proposed plant, yet those very folks didnt live anywhere near the site, or even within the borders of Surry County. Others claimed to have not known about public meetings held regarding the project, even though some of those making such statements actually attended some of those earlier meetings they claimed not to have known about. And some folks screaming for the project to be derailed didnt mind playing a little loose with the facts.
Those folks, in our estimation, really had little standing to protest.
However, additional voices have joined the anti-Fibrowatt chorus. And while we have been a supporter of the Fibrowatt project since that June 2008 announcement, we have to admit some troubling signs have come about.
First, there were whispers that a Fibrowatt plant in Minnesota had violated air quality regulations. Then, it became known that North Carolina officials had received details of these alleged violations, yet had agreed with Minnesota officials not to release what they learned publicly.
In December, widespread media reports, citing statements issued by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, showed the Fibrowatt plant (known as Fibrominn) had experienced numerous violations of its permit.
That is cause for concern.
Even more distressing is the fact that as protesters have become more vocal, many of them have raised legitimate questions regarding the operation of the plant what will the highway traffic be like with trucks coming in and out, how many of those promised 80 jobs will actually be truck drivers verses how many will be actual, on-site positions for local residents to fill, and how will the plant avoid violating air pollution laws in North Carolina are among the questions deserving a response.
The members of the Surry County Board of Commissioners have repeatedly stated they have forwarded those concerns to Fibrowatt officials, to be met with nothing more than silence from the firm.
That led to the commissioners decision to retract any offer of financial incentives to the company, and we support the commissioners action. They have not turned against Fibrowatt. On the contrary, when the board made this vote Tuesday night, several of them said they still support the building of the plant as it was originally announced by company officials.
But, the board is acting in a responsible manner, withholding support until the firm addresses legitimate questions from Surry County residents.
Fibrowatt had a great deal of community support when it announced plans to build in Surry County, and we believe the firm can still reclaim some of that.
But it must move fast. And if it doesnt, then the firm will have proven itself the type of company Surry County doesnt really need.

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