State Department of Environmental Protection to hold local public hearing on Penn State steam plant conversion

Local residents spoke, and the state Department of Environmental Protection listened.

The DEP announced Thursday that it will hold a public meeting and hearing to discuss approval for Penn State’s project to convert the West Campus steam plant from coal to natural gas, a move that will help the university meet new federal air quality standards going into effect in 2016.

The event will start at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 30 in the auditorium of the State College Area High School South Building.

Penn State submitted the air quality plan approval application for the project on Oct. 9 of last year, according to the DEP. The project includes constructing two new natural gas boilers and modifying two existing coal boilers to use only natural gas.

Penn State also will install two 25,000-gallon, above-ground tanks to store backup diesel fuel.

The DEP published notice that it intended to approve the project in early August and asked for public comment. As that 30-day period ended, another started for the surrounding municipalities.

DEP spokesman Daniel Spadoni said that some of the public comments received called for a public hearing on the project.

During the municipal comment period, residents interested in the project approached Ferguson Township to urge supervisors to also ask for a hearing. Ferguson was one of the townships notified that Penn State applied for DEP plan approval.

At the suggestion of Councilman Peter Morris, the State College Borough Council made the same comment, also requesting that the DEP hold the hearing locally.

Borough residents and officials have raised questions about the safety of the plant conversion, and some even have suggested that Penn State move the plant away from the edge of downtown.

Also part of the project, but not the air quality application, is the 12-inch, high-pressure pipeline Columbia Gas will install to serve the plant. The line originally was planned to travel under borough neighborhood streets, but public outrage over safety resulted in the university board of trustees approving a route through campus instead, at an additional cost of almost $10 million.

Residents again will have their say on the project during the upcoming meeting.

At 6:30 p.m., DEP staff will explain the review process for the air quality program, to which Penn State had to apply with the project. Penn State officials also will explain the project, which they have done in various venues since this spring.

The public hearing will begin at 8 p.m., and members of the public can present up to five minutes of testimony about Penn State’s application. Written testimony of any length also will be accepted.

Those who want to give testimony at the hearing can register to do so that night. For anyone unable to attend, written comments can be submitted until the close of business on Tuesday, Nov. 12, to DEP Air Quality Program Manager, 208 W. Third St., Suite 101, Williamsport, PA 17701.