Sunday, April 03, 2016

Guest Article: Citizens still concerned about community health hazards from L'Anse Warden Electric Company plant

The L'Anse Warden Electric Company (LWEC) "biomass" plant in L'Anse, Michigan, has been the subject of citizen complaints about pollution, especially non-compliance with air quality standards. At right is the Falls River, which flows into Lake Superior. (Photo © and courtesy Horst Schmidt)

By Catherine Andrews, L'Anse Township resident

In the March 29, Daily Mining Gazette (DMG) cover story, Steve Walsh, General Manager/Chief Operating Officer of L'Anse Warden Electric Company (LWEC) opines that Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (FOLK) and Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) are 100 percent against jobs in Baraga County. How he arrives at this conclusion is puzzling in light of a recent conversation I had with him.
(Inset photo: Guest author Catherine Andrews, speaking about the L'Anse Warden Electric Company plant during a meeting of Friends of the Land of Keweenaw last October. Keweenaw Now file photo.)*

On February 24, Walsh repeatedly accused me, and others, of wanting money from him.  I explained  that we are concerned about community health, the health of L'Anse Warden Electric Company (LWEC) employees and the environment. My perception is that he fails to grasp the concept that anyone would value health over money.

A major criteria pollutant emitted from the LWEC stack is Hydrogen Chloride (HCl). The permit limit is 2.17 pounds per hour. A September 24 stack test revealed 5.19 pounds per hour. HCl forms hydrochloric acid, also known as muriatic acid, upon contact with atmospheric humidity. HCl is just one of many chemicals emitted from LWEC.

Exposure to HCl may cause eye, nose and respiratory tract irritation and inflammation and pulmonary edema. Exposure to skin may cause severe burns, ulcerations and scarring.

This photo shows the smokestack of the LWEC plant very near the BHK Child Development Center. (Photo © and courtesy Catherine Andrews) 

When I expressed concern regarding LWEC's close proximity to the BHK Child Development Center, Walsh said, "It should not have been built so close to a power plant."

This photo shows the proximity of the BHK Child Development Center to the conveyor that delivers chipped railroad ties and wood chips used for fuel in the LWEC plant. The receiving hopper (to the right of the conveyor) and the conveyor are sources of fugitive dust. The photo was taken from the river side of the plant. (Photo © and courtesy Catherine Andrews)

BHK was built in 1998, five years after the Warden Plant stopped burning coal in 1993, and 10 years before Traxys purchased the shuttered plant in order to convert it to a Biomass facility.

Even though MDEQ (Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality) and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) are investigating noncompliance issues within LWEC's expired permit, Walsh's statement to the L'Anse Village Council that LWEC is in no imminent danger of being shut down is probably true. As seen in Flint, extraordinary bureaucratic bungling persists until agencies are forced by public pressure to do their job.

Green Hill Manor, at left, is a senior housing facility, some of whose residents have complained about dust from the LWEC plant. (Photo © and courtesy Horst Schmidt)

Walsh's allegations that citizen activists want to shut down LWEC are completely fabricated. I specifically told him that this whole issue would be resolved if LWEC converted to natural gas, which is already utilized during shut down and start up operations. I have been very clear that using natural gas is preferable to burning chemically treated railroad ties, chipped tires and other chemically treated products. I sincerely hope that most of the 17 people (not 35 as was quoted in the DMG article) who are employed at the plant would continue to be employed if the plant converts to natural gas.

This is a recent photo of railroad ties to be used at the LWEC plant. At right, in the background, is Lake Superior's Keweenaw Bay. (Photo © and courtesy Horst Schmidt)

Traxys, owner of the LWEC plant, is a subsidiary of a private equity investment company. They purchase devalued property and acquire Federal subsidies (LWEC received over 11 million) and other incentives to start up new businesses. Once the new business becomes operational, the company is sold for a sweet profit. LWEC has been for sale for three years.

Traxys never intended to become a long term, integral player in the Baraga County economy. L'Anse is only a blip on their balance sheet and will be stuck with a toxic legacy that will remain long after Traxys has moved on.**

Editor's Notes:

* See our Dec. 4, 2015, article, "FOLK, local residents, EPA investigate L'Anse Warden biomass plant permit violations; DEQ to hold public hearings." 
** See also our Oct. 29, 2015, article, "Guest article: Questions on air pollution from L'Anse Warden biomass plant and postponed public hearing," by Diane Miller. Note that the public hearing on the LWEC plant, mentioned as scheduled by MDEQ, has not yet been held.

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