Lancaster County community divided over soybean plant

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Mar 31, 2015 8:48 PM

Photo by Ben Allen/witf

The Bainbridge Fire Hall was nearly standing room only for Tuesday night's public meeting on Perdue's proposal for a soybean plant.

(Conoy Township, Lancaster County) -- Many farmers and business leaders spoke in favor of a first-of-its kind facility proposed for Lancaster County at a public meeting last night, but the plan also has its critics.

Perdue's estimated $60 million soybean plant in northwestern Lancaster County could bring about 35 full-time jobs to the region, and many farmers say it would keep business local.

"If we don't build the plant here we're going to continue to haul our soybeans someplace else. Maybe to Salisbury and then back or wherever. We're going to go to where the price is," says Eric Wolgemuth, a farmer in Elizabethtown who currently trucks his soybeans to Maryland, where a similar plant is located.

"A lot of the soybeans today because of a lack of processing a lot of the soybeans get trucked out of state, processed, and trucked back in. So that's a lot of truck miles, a lot of emissions and additional cost to both the farmer and the end user," adds Gregory Roe, a Perdue vice president.

But the plan has a vocal group of opponents.

They point to the pollution: more than 4,500 tons of greenhouse gases a year, including 208 tons of hexane, which is federally classified as hazardous.

Patricia Longenecker lives near Elizabethtown and says between the county's incinerator and this proposed plant, there would just be too many particulates in the air.

"We've got the incinerator coughing out particulate into our air. For almost sixty years, we've had Brunner's Island, still spewing particulate."

Longenecker says she wants to help farmers, but not at the expense of the environment.

"And I think if farmers would stand together, that would have a lot of weight in forming opinions and changing the course of something like this," she adds.

Because the area is out of compliance with federal air quality standards, Perdue is bound to pursue the lowest possible levels of pollution.

The state Department of Environmental Protection will take written comments until April 10th, with a final decision expected in the coming months.

An $8.75 million state grant first awarded by Governor Rendell is expected to be available for the project in Conoy Township.

Perdue says if its proposal is approved, it plans to start receiving deliveries at the facility by fall 2016, a timeline Roe calls "aggressive".

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