More neighbors to renewable energy projects mean more complaints

Kingman, AZ – Hundreds of homeowners are fighting a proposed biodiesel plant that may be built about a mile from their community in northwest Arizona. There's currently a big environmental surge of support for wind farms, solar projects and biodiesel plants. But neighbors to these proposed projects are worried about water usage, safety and property values. In the latest installment of KNAU's week-long series "Going Green," Arizona Public Radio's Laurel Morales has this report on the common Not-In-My-Backyard complaint.

An emerald green golf course winds its way through the painted-desert rolling hills of Valle Vista east of Kingman. The typically serene community has recently been shaken up by a proposed biodiesel plant.

SFX: rte 66 traffic

Butch Martin pulls over to the side of Route 66 at the site of the potential facility.

MARTIN: As you look around you see nothing but beautiful virgin desert.

And he'd like to keep it that way. Martin is part of a group of concerned citizens who live near this site. They don't oppose the project per say but they want it moved to a different spot.

MARTIN: Ten miles down the road we have an industrial park that you can still see from here and that's the appropriate sight. It's zoned it has acceleration deceleration lanes. It has an appropriate fire department.

Land owner Mark Neal has no intention of moving Sun West Biofuels away from Valle Vista.

NEAL: Their backyard happens to be a corridor that's between a highway and a railroad track. Because there's not currently industrial there doesn't mean industry isn't going to come. And they're not going to keep it from coming. They will have industry in their backyard. We think it would be beneficial to have us come first set a precedent have a very clean green industry.

The Neal family has strong roots in Mohave County and is well-connected among those in charge.

SFX: Cross fade to meeting chatter

At a recent Planning and Zoning meeting dozens of Valle Vista residents wear orange ribbons to show their solidarity against the plant's location.

Commissioners don't get to the controversial issue right away first they vote to have palm fronds sprout out from the top of a cell tower. But during the public comment period the debate over the biodiesel plant heats up.

(gavel) No more outbursts if you want me to I can clear the room. This is your last warning. Any more outbursts you will leave.

The chairman, sporting sunglasses inside, shorts and a baseball cap looks like he just stepped out of a Jimmy Buffet concert.

Then Valle Vista resident Kent Russell gets his two minutes at the podium.

RUSSELL: I live downwind of this the chemicals used for this production sodium methoxide a highly flammable and corrosive material is combined with methanol a highly explosive. If anything should happen a spill, an explosion, we're going to be downwind of this.

In July an explosion at a Chicago biodiesel plant injured two workers and sent fumes several blocks away. A spokeswoman for the Biodiesel Board said the process is usually safe though (quote) "even the safest facilities can have industrial accidents."

Ken Hurskin speaks to the commissioners in favor of the plant.

HURSKIN: We have an opportunity here to either open the door for business and an opportunity for our citizens or slam it shut. I'm not saying everything should be automatically approved because we want growth. But on the other hand these are very, very difficult economic times. And there are billions of dollars of development literally on our doorstep solar, wind and now biodiesel.

Twenty temporary jobs would be created to build the facility and another 20 permanent jobs would be available once the plant is complete.

But those in favor of the project are outnumbered three to one at the meeting. Kathleen Franklin and more than 800 other neighbors signed petitions stating their opposition to the plant. That's out of 12-hundred Valle Vista residents.

FRANKLIN: We spent a lot of our money and a lot of our life building our retirement home I do not want this in my backyard.

Across northern Arizona other homeowners are fighting renewable energy projects in their backyards including giant solar and wind farms proposed outside Snowflake.

Outside the meeting in Kingman, Mayor John Salem says he owns property in Valle Vista and he's not afraid of what might happen to its value if a biodiesel plant is built next door.

SALEM: We need to be in support of those things whether they are not as aesthetically pleasing as we'd like them to be. I think that's a challenge that can be overcome. I don't think the NIMBY attitude is something that holds water anymore. We need to have this stuff in our backyard.

A week after this meeting the commission approved a zoning use permit for Sun West Biofuels. The County Board of Supervisors still must give their OK in October. If they do, Sun West hopes to have their facility up and running this time next year.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Kingman.