2010 April 28: WI Rothschild, Wausau & Weston: Kids’ health focus of biomass critics

2010 April 28: WI Rothschild, Wausau & Weston: Kids’ health focus of biomass critics

By Amy Ryan • For the Wausau Daily Herald • April 28, 2010

WESTON — After presentations for and against a proposed biomass energy plant to be built across from Rothschild Elementary School, the D.C. Everest Area School Board decided Tuesday to not yet take a position on the project.

Residents fighting the biomass plant were hopeful the board would join the effort to stop its construction.

"I think we have too much material. I would not make a recommendation at this time," said board member Rita Kasten.

We Energies plans to build a $250 million power plant that burns low-quality and unusable wood and paper waste, powering the Domtar paper mill in Rothschild and providing electricity to homes in portions of Wisconsin. We Energies hopes it will be operating by fall 2013.

Residents at the meeting said they were concerned about the effect the plant might have on the health of the children at the nearby elementary school. Those concerns were shared by board members and district administrators.

"USA TODAY … studied 127,000 schools, and only 23,000 have worse air than Rothschild," said board member Larry Schaefer. "We’re starting with some pretty poor air already. That’s a concern I have with this plant."

Rob Hughes, the parent of a 7-month-old, lives near the proposed site of the energy plant and said he is concerned about children playing on the playground near an energy plant.

"In the long term, these particulates cause development of lung disease in children," he said. "It’s hard to learn if you’re puffing on an inhaler, if you’re light-headed and struggling to breathe."

Representatives from We Energies and Domtar said the new plant would emit less pollution than the current biomass generators used at Domtar.

"There are very rigorous standards placed by regulatory agencies to protect our welfare," said Terry Charles, environmental health and safety manager for Domtar. "That includes asthmatics and elderly."

The plant would cut dependence on fossil fuels, reduce acid rain and be nearly carbon-neutral, the environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin and the U.S. Forest Service have said.

Rothschild Elementary Principal Ron Foreman said so far, he hasn’t had any issues with students needing to stay indoors during recess because of asthma or other breathing-related illnesses, despite Domtar operating across the road.

"Not even a month or so ago when the air quality warnings were in effect," he said.

The School Board will take the matter up at future meetings.

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