Citizens, environmentalists give views on White Bluff

REDFIELD — An Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality public hearing held Tuesday night at Redfield Junior High School could have sparked comparison to the title of the classic Charles Dickens novel, A Tale of Two Cities.

Ten visitors from Little Rock, all affiliated with the Sierra Club environmental organization, voiced concerns over and some opposition to ADEQ’s proposed renewal of an air permit at Entergy’s White Bluff coal-powered electric-generating plant here.

Meanwhile, four Redfield residents spoke in favor of the permit renewal and hailed the professionalism and stewardship of the plant’s workers.

After considering those comments along with written statements, ADEQ officials will make and announce their decision. The draft permit is for a five-year period.

Redfield Alderman Darrell Heddon asked that ADEQ “please renew this permit.” Heddon said White Bluff is “critical to the community’s tax base, schools, economy and business.”

The coal-powered process came under atttack by the permit opposition as unsafe to human health and the environment, and Heddon agreed that “no one wants dirty air or dirty water.” But he countered that White Bluff workers “live here with us” and consistently take steps to ensure that the plant is operating “cleanly and efficiently.”

Heddon noted that 46 percent of the nation’s electricity is generated by coal-powered plants. He said he would support industry improvements that could lead to “cleaner, more affordable energy,” but such developments must be made “over time” and White Bluff needs to continue its current production in the interim.

Elizabeth Ann Tuck-Rowan of Redfield suggested that the economy must be a factor in considering the permit renewal. But Dina Nash of Little Rock, a college professor, said jobs should be secondary to health when assessing White Bluff’s regional impact.

Rel Corbin of Little Rock charged that White Bluff functions on unsafe “19th Century technology” and a permit renewal would constitute “staying in The Dark Ages.”

Fellow Sierra Club members Lev Guter and Carolyn Shearman also lodged verbal complaints, Guter accusing White Bluff of being in violation of several state and federal regulations, and Shearman indicating that White Bluff is among that nation’s “dirtiest plants in regard to mercury emissions.”

Redfield’s John Sutton, a 32-year White Bluff maintenance employee, said plant workers “pay particular attention to the environment.” He questioned “how many of the critics calling White Bluff dirty have actually visited” the facility.

Tom Hughes of Redfield, a former president of the Redfield Chamber of Commerce and a grandson of the man who sold the White Bluff site to Entergy, said he’s hopeful that everyone, regardless of their views on the matter, can “come together to satisfy White Bluff health concerns.”

The Sierra Club’s Becky Williams echoed Hughes, adding that while hearing participants might have differing opinions, “Everyone here has a lot in common.”

The draft permit includes only one physical addition to the facility, a replacement fire pump.