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Plans for ethanol plant here stir pros, cons

Plans to build an $80 million ethanol plant on the Buffalo River drew mixed reactions Tuesday from residents attending a public hearing on the facility.

While some were encouraged by the jobs the plant would bring, others feared the potential for a catastrophic explosion at the proposed RiverWright Energy ethanol manufacturing plant and voiced concerns about pollution, odors, noise and rodent problems it could create.

"I don't want to move, but if this plant did come into the neighborhood . . . we would have to move," Maureen Cleary Schaeffer, a First Ward resident, said during the hearing sponsored by the Common Council's Legislation Committee.

But Leonard Williams, a resident of the Perry Housing Projects, said that by turning down the project, the city would be sending the wrong message to others seeking to invest in and bring decent-paying manufacturing jobs to the area.

"These are jobs that people in Buffalo Municipal Housing will have the opportunity to compete for," said Williams.

The proposed plant would sit on a 23-acre site along Childs Avenue. Council President David Franczyk and South Council Member Michael P. Kearns Monday had accepted an invitation from RiverWright Energy officials to tour an ethanol plant in Rosholt, S.D. Kearns said he was impressed with the safety steps at that plant but vowed the Council would not make a hasty decision about the suitability for such a plant on Buffalo's waterfront.

"We're really taking a slow approach to looking at all the details of this project. It's a very cumbersome project with a lot of detail, with a lot things to learn about how ethanol is made," Kearns said Tuesday.

Franczyk said the safety of residents near the plant was his overriding concern. As for odor, he said the smells emanating from the Rosholt plant were not especially unpleasant.

"The process was like fermented beer. It smelled like baking bread," he said.

Craig Slater, a lawyer representing RiverWright at Tuesday's hearing, stressed that the process of turning corn into an alternative fuel was not at all like a refinery.

"The No. 1 issue for an ethanol manufacturer is fire safety," Slater said. "There are significant differences between gasoline and ethanol. It's harder to ignite ethanol because the flashpoint is different [from gasoline's]."

However, Judith Einach, a former mayoral candidate and director of the Coalition on West Valley Nuclear Wastes, insisted that an ethanol plant poses inherent dangers.

"Since it takes so much fossil fuel to grow and transport corn, the alternative energy balance is zero or, at best, a very small net gain," Einach said.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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