State College

Ferguson Township seeks state hearing on part of Penn State’s natural gas conversion project, based on resident feedback

Based on feedback from residents who have followed the issue of Penn State’s West Campus steam plant conversion to natural gas, the township supervisors will recommend the state hold a public hearing on the project.

As part of Ferguson’s regular meeting agenda Tuesday, the board received an official notification letter from Penn State, saying the university is applying for state Department of Environmental Protection approval related to air quality and the installation of two natural gas-fired boilers.

The application also includes installing two diesel fuel tanks for back-up use.

The boilers will replace the current coal-fired boilers as part of the university’s conversion project. That project will allow Penn State to meet federal air quality requirements that take effect at the start of 2016.

It also includes a high-pressure pipeline to transport the gas, which caused an uproar this spring when it was set to be installed through a State College neighborhood. In July, the university board of trustees approved an alternate route, through campus, to the tune of an additional $9.6 million.

The Aug. 21 letter from Penn State notified Benner, College, Ferguson and Patton townships of the university’s application for DEP air quality plan approval, related to the boilers. The steam plant site is in State College, at West College Avenue and Burrowes Road.

According to DEP spokesman Daniel Spadoni, those notifications are for the supervisors’ and council members’ information about the project. The elected officials have 30 days from receipt of the letter to offer comments.

Spadoni said the university submitted its application in October of last year, and DEP deemed it complete in December and, following a technical review of the proposal, a 30-day public comment period ended Wednesday.

“...The department has received several comments and requests for a public hearing,” he said. “The department is currently reviewing all the comments received and will then decide whether a public hearing will be held.”

He said there is no regulatory deadline for the DEP’s final decision.

Three residents spoke in favor of a public hearing when the issue came up on Ferguson’s consent agenda Tuesday. They said Penn State should act responsibly and use cleaner energy sources, like geothermal and solar.

“The whole thing was started as a deception, and I think Ferguson Township should question DEP and should not cooperate with the university on doing this,” said resident Bill Hechinger.

Johan Zwart, a borough resident, called for a hearing to get more people involved in the process.

“At least we should delay this in such a way so that everyone is convinced it is absolutely safe,” he said.

The four Ferguson supervisors present voted 3-1 to provide the public hearing comment to the DEP. Chairman George Pytel opposed it because he said the agency has to hold a hearing. However, Spadoni said the DEP will make that determination. Supervisors Elliott Killian, Bill Keough and Dick Mascolo approved.

As for the other townships, the Benner Township secretary was unavailable Wednesday and another staff member said the letter did not appear on Thursday’s board agenda.

The letter will be part of College Township’s consent agenda Thursday and will be listed as an information item on Patton’s Sept. 11 agenda.