asks for impact hearings
In their most significant move since agreeing
to terms with Great Plains Power (GPP) in December
2002, the Platte County Commission has called
on the US Army Corps of Engineers to require a
full environmental impact statement (EIS) and
to host public hearings in regard to the proposed
Weston Bend power plant project.
In a letter addressed to Doug Berka, special
projects manager for the Army Corps, the commission
acknowledged public pressure regarding the proposal
and outlined their request, declaring it to be
in the "citizens' best interest.
"During the past few weeks, we have heard
from many citizens of Platte County concerning
the GPP proposal," the letter states. "Some
favor the proposal, others oppose it, but all
The letter stated that although the commission
was not "exactly sure" what an EIS entailed,
it signaled that permitting agencies could do
more to alleviate concerns regarding the project.
"Agencies responsible for permitting decisions
should conduct public hearings and educate the
public regarding the process," the letter
said, adding, "We encourage your agency (the
Army Corps) to do so.
Susan Brown, spokesperson for the Concerned Citizens
of Platte County, was thankful for the commission's
"This is great news and what Concerned Citizens
has been requesting for many months," said
Brown. "An EIS is a very comprehensive study
on the impacts of a proposed action. The reason
it is necessary for us to ask for one is that
the federal government requires an EIS only if
the permit is for a major federal action. When
a private company is involved, the courts have
ruled both ways - sometimes requiring an EIS and
other times not.
When reached by The Landmark, Berka cautioned
against drawing any conclusions regarding the
project because of the letter.
"Even if we do the EIS, that doesn't mean
the project couldn't go forward," Berka explained,
adding that the Corps could only take the letter
under advisement. Berka said that the Army Corps
was only involved in the water permits for the
project and that they were in the process of evaluating
"We, the Corps of Engineers, because of
the wetland fills proposed for the project and
the water wells under the river
Bend project will require a permit from us,"
Berka said, explaining that the Army Corps historically
handled permits for navigable rivers since 1899.
Berka said that his agency would look at GPP's
data and conclude whether or not the power plant
project would have a "significant environmental
impact." If it did, then the Corps would
ask GPP to submit a full EIS.
When asked what a "significant impact"
would entail, Berka said it would be a project
that exceeded state and federal regulations for
emission levels. He said that it was too early
to tell if the Weston Bend project would exceed
such limits and even if it was, the EIS would
not be a "showstopper.
"It wouldn't stop the project," Berka
said. "It would be used to see how we address
The letter comes from the commission just one
week after the City of Weston called on them to
"lead the way" in seeing that just such
an action was taken. Although the commission is
not able to demand that the EIS take place under
the terms of their contract, it would seem that
by taking this action they have done as much as
they can on their end to address health and environmental
concerns for the project.
"From the outset, the commission realized
that the county did not have a role in environmental
permitting for such a plant," Commissioner
Steve Wegner said. "Nor do we have the staff
with the technical training to provide the commission
with an expert assessment.
Commissioner Michael Short agreed, saying that
"although the commission disagrees with many
statements made by some who oppose the power plant's
construction, we believe that thorough environmental
assessments and increased public awareness about
the permitting process are logical and in our
citizens best interest.