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THERE NEVER WAS A PLAN ‘B’

August 16, 2009 - Ray Hall (Archive)
It should not have come as a surprise to the Mayor and BPU Board that Praixair chose Michigan as a demonstration site for capture and underground storage of carbon dioxide from coal fueled power plants. According to Praxair Michigan offers better geology for underground storage and greater access to financing for an enormously expensive undertaking. Praxair is a well managed company with a strong balance sheet, but they needed a partner with deep pockets.

Praxair didn’t mention national politics, but politics must have played a role in the decision and probably was the decisive factor. Michigan is traditionally a Democratic stronghold, a ‘blue’ state that came close to turning into a ‘red’ state. As long as both national political parties are competing for the affection of Michigan voters it isn’t likely that either will abandon that pursuit anytime soon and shut off the financial spigot from Washington.

Like the Mayor I am saddened with Praxair’s decision. I am not disappointed that it has delayed the project; the project was far too costly to begin with but it is just another of a long list of projects that didn’t pan out. Although I have been harshly criticized for bringing up the past, the past is relevant because residents of Jamestown are left to pick up the financial pieces for so many ill conceived and poorly managed projects.

Jamestown is probably the only city that built the same parking ramp three times in seven years. We also spent nearly $2 million remodeling and renovating the General Hospital before we closed it and sold it a year later. We even paid a contractor $250,000 for a parking ramp that wasn’t built and it hasn’t been that long ago that city residents paid off a $2 million dollar debt for the General Hospital that was sold. I don’t know how much money city residents had invested in the power plant project before Praxair pulled out but it must be substantial and we still haven’t resolved the problem of replacing an old, worn out boiler.

What did surprise me was the revelation that a governmental agency, a city department is the “single highest taxpayer in the city.” In a statement to the Post Journal Mayor Teresi allowed as how five divisions of the BPU, water, electric, garbage, district heat and sewer hands over $3.5 million to the city every year in payments in lieu of taxes. The practice of transferring services and receiving payments in lieu of taxes from the BPU might be a good idea, but being the city’s highest taxpayer is a reminder of how much our industrial base has shrunk.

Mr. Mayor, free advice is what it’s worth, but there are some of us that do not believe there is, or ever was a ‘plan B.’ Even the most casual observer recognizes the decision for an Oxy Coal power plant was serendipitous instead of a well thought out plan. We know that because early in the process BPU management characterized an Oxy Coal plant as unreliable and unavailable technology and nothing more than a dangerous chemical processing plant. That does not make us unsympathetic to the problem; we need to do something about the power plant, but what?

Mayor Teresi I do not envy you and the board members as you struggle to come to a decision in a matter with equally unfavorable options. However, I believe the community wants you to succeed, to do what is ultimately best for the city. Please Mr. Mayor bring the community together, open the doors to the BPU. Stop the closed meetings, the Executive Sessions. If the BPU is going to build new offices, throw open the meetings and let us at least discuss adding an addition to City Hall instead of using prime industrial land for office space.

Your first task as I see it is to restore confidence in a segment of the population, perhaps a minority of the population, that mistrusts the entire process. Openly discuss the options and the drawbacks; if there is bad news tell us, let us be a part of the process. Jamestowners have labored for so long in an economically depressed area that we can cope with disappointments and set backs. Regardless of the outcome, let us discuss the future of the power plant.

 
 

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