City Council Revokes Permit for Trash-recycling Energy Plant

Protesters gather outside Green Bay City Hall before Tuesday night's vote on a trash-recycling alternative energy plant. / ©Scott Williams/Press-Gazette

More than a year after approving a trash-recycling energy plant development, Green Bay aldermen have revoked a permit for the controversial project.

Bowing to vocal public opposition to the alternative energy concept, the City Council voted 7-5 on Tuesday to take action that could effectively kill the project.

Several aldermen said they felt developer Oneida Seven Generations Corp. had misled the city about the proposed plant’s pollution and public health hazards.

“As time went on, things changed drastically,” said Alderman Tom DeWane, president of the City Council.

An attorney for Oneida Sevens Generations declined to comment after the vote.

Mayor Jim Schmitt, a vocal supporter of the development, said he would consult with city attorneys before deciding whether to veto the council action, which would then require a two-thirds council vote to override his veto.

The council in March 2011 approved a permit for the project at 1230 Hurlbut St. on the city’s west side.

But neighboring residents and others later picketed and protested the development repeatedly, arguing that the developer had concealed how much the 60,000-square-foot plant would create air pollution and jeopardize public health.

Opponents packed the City Council chambers Tuesday and urged aldermen to revoke the permit.

“Now’s the time to go back and change something while we still have the chance,” said Robert Heroux, president of the Mather Heights Neighborhood Association.

Oneida Seven Generations attorney Joe Nicks, however, told aldermen they had no authority to revoke the permit and that there were no grounds for such action. Referring to company officials, Nicks said, “They want to be good neighbors and good taxpayers of Green Bay.”

The development company is affiliated with the Oneida Tribe of Indians.

In a process known as gasification or pyrolysis, the plant would heat common household trash at 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, reducing the trash to charred remains and harnessing the energy in a way that produces electricity. Oneida officials say the facility could process up to 150 tons of trash daily and generate enough electricity to power 3,000 to 4,000 homes.

Supporters applaud the project as a clean energy source and a green-friendly alternative to landfill dumping. But critics compare it to a trash incinerator and say it would hurt the environment.

Aldermen voted to conduct an inquiry into the permit approval after hearing repeated accusations that the city was deceived about the plant, including its smokestacks and emissions.

The city Plan Commission heard four hours of testimony Oct. 3 before voting to recommend against revoking the permit. But members of the council overruled that recommendation Tuesday in voting to rescind the permit.

Alderman Tom Sladek singled out Oneida Seven Generations President Kevin Cornelius and accused him of using “false statements” to obtain the city’s approval of the development.

“Kevin Cornelius knew his statements were false,” Sladek said. “He had every opportunity to say, ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I can’t answer that.’”

Cornelius attended Tuesday’s meeting but did not address the council and, through the company’s attorney, declined to comment later.

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