John Hollenhorst ReportingControversy is boiling over a proposal for the biggest construction project in Central Utah in many years. One of the biggest issues, is air pollution since it would also be Utah's first new coal-burning power-plant in two decades.
The plant would be smack dab in the middle of farming country, a half-dozen miles from Richfield. When KSL asked a couple of neighbors to join us, we were surprised to be met by dozens of area residents with protest signs and banners, angry about the project.
Jadie Houchin, Sigurd Resident: "And why on earth would we want, in the middle of this beautiful valley, a huge, ugly, brown stain?"
A Nevada-based group of developers is proposing a 270 megawatt power plant. It would be fueled by about 75 truckloads of coal every day from a mine near Salina. The electricity would be fed into the western power grid through an existing electrical substation near the town of Sigurd.
Leaders of Sevier County strongly support the 400 million dollar project, assuming it passes regulatory reviews.
Gary Mason, Sevier County Commissioner: "The people that talk to me are just, I’d say 95 percent for this thing. They're excited."
State regulators are currently preparing an Air Quality permit.
Rick Sprott, Utah Director of Air Quality: "If anything is built it will be state-of-the-art and won't violate any health standards."
But down on the farm neighbors don't trust those health standards and they worry about smokestack emissions.
Burke Bastian, Sigurd Resident: "If too much mercury falls, it's gonna fall on the hay. It's gonna be in the water. I milk a herd of cows. It'll come through the milk. It'll affect everybody."
Scott Chamberlain, Aurora Resident: "I imagine we'll have a fairly prominent brown haze, and that's kind of disturbing. I like the views of the mountains."
Rick Sprott, Utah Director of Air Quality: "There will be times when a plume would be visible. But, again, there should be no impact to health."
The critics also say industrialization will change their lifestyle.
Burke Bastian, Sigurd Resident: "And this is my life. I'm a farmer. I'm a dairyman. And this is my life. And I want to keep it that way."
As usual, those quality if life issues collide head-on with another powerful force--the desire for good paying jobs and a strong economy.
Malcolm Nash, Sevier County Economic Development: "It's brand new money into the economy. It injects new economic life into the area."
Gary Mason, Sevier County Commissioner: "Lot of family farms are disappearing and being turned into corporate farms. And so there's more and more people looking for non-agricultural jobs."
Many of the critics brought children to the hayfield where the plant is proposed to sit. Jadi Houchin, Sigurd:: "And how can we look in their faces 15 years from now and tell them 'we decided your health wasn't quite as important as our money?’"
The neighbors admit they may be a minority, but they promise a stiff fight to wake up the county.
The developer's lawyer says no firm customers have yet signed up. But agreements are in place for all the necessary land, water and coal.