Chester residents' main concern over ethanol plant: Noise

CHESTER -- Some Chester County property owners who live near the site of a proposed wood waste ethanol plant seem to support such a facility coming to their area.

But they share one concern -- noise.

Most of the property around the site is zoned for industry. But the site is near some residents' land and those landowners hope the ethanol company will consider their ears if it builds a plant on the 206-acre Lancaster Highway site between Chester and Interstate 77.

The sounds that worry residents could come from vehicles and machines transporting wood to the plant. Landowners learned of the noise possibilities at a meeting last week with the company, which hasn't been named by county officials.

"The difficulty we uncovered by persistent questioning was that there is a 24-hour significant noise potential due to transporting some of the raw materials into the plant," said Dr. William Clark, a retired radiologist who lives on a 490-acre farm in the area. "That kind of noise was a big disappointment because everything was sounding very promising up until that time."

Rest of it sounds appealing

The company is considering the site for a facility that would make ethanol from wood waste, such as the debris left behind after logging. The plant would employ about 60 people.

Many aspects of the project are appealing, Clark said, pointing to the company's claim that the project wouldn't have a gas or liquid efflux.

"It sounds like quite a green industry," he said.

Although the operation of the proposed plant would seem to be quiet, Clark said, getting wood into plant would be noisy, particularly from the beeping of front-end loaders and the clanking of coupling trains.

Jay Williams, the closest resident to the site, said noise was a concern for him, but overall, he had no objection to the plant.

That seems to be the prevailing attitude of nearby landowners, said County Councilman Alex Oliphant, who owns property that borders the site.

"The only issue ... was related more to the beep, beep, beep or the backing up of the equipment that'll be doing the unloading," said Oliphant, who attended the meeting.

Oliphant said he was pleased with what he heard from the company. He said plants can be designed with noise-reducing features. He also noted that the sounds of trains can become familiar, pointing to the Chester switching yard just a few hundred yards from his house.

"When we don't hear the train," he said, "we can't sleep anymore."

Oliphant said the jobs and tax revenue from the plant also are exciting.

"I'm very pleased to have those folks as a neighbor," he said.

Although the noise potential concerns him, Clark said he was "hopefully optimistic" after meeting with the company.

"They were most patient with us and respectful of our questions," he said, noting that the business' representatives appeared willing to try to address residents' worries.

Should the company choose the site, county economic development director Karlisa Parker said she thinks the business will consider the landowners' concerns when deciding the layout of the plant.

She stressed that the meeting was productive, allowing landowners' thoughts to be shared.

"The company ... heard what they said," she said.

As for Clark, he hopes neighbors can help with this development process.

"What we're trying to do is to have the best possible neighbor," he said. "I would say that we welcome this neighbor if they can help assure us that the noise that we fear will be mitigated. ... We have to have a wait and see on that."