January 31, 2011 – Scott Griffin remembers when wind shifts stirred a rotten-egg smell on the Catawba River near his Mount Holly home.

Just across the river, in neighboring Mecklenburg County, he could see the source: a waterside chemical plant. The operation closed in 2005 but is still a federal Superfund hazardous waste cleanup site.

Meanwhile, for six years, Griffin and others have been working to develop an 11-mile greenway along the Catawba, part of a Mount Holly makeover.

Now, leaders worry this vision may be threatened by a proposed new venture that includes the old chemical plant site.

The new project is called ReVenture Park, a planned 667-acre “eco-industrial” complex anchored by a waste-to-energy plant that will gobble up 370,000 tons of residential trash a year.

“My first reaction was ‘What in the world is it?'” said Griffin, who chairs the greenway committee of the nonprofit Mount Holly Community Foundation. “I had visions of smokestacks. What will it look like? What kind of negatives will there be?”

Last year, foundation members and other local leaders got an overview of the project from Tom McKittrick, president of ReVenture developer Forsite Development.

But for many, Griffin said, the project is still a big unknown. In response, the Mount Holly foundation is sponsoring a public meeting with McKittrick on Tuesday.

“We want to make sure people get the facts straight from the horse’s mouth,” Griffin said. “And we want them (company) to be truthful.”

Instead of incinerators that burn solid waste, the proposed waste-to-energy operation will use a $126 million “gasifier” that heats fuel to high temperatures, releasing gas that is turned into steam and makes electricity.

Forsite Development has told Charlotte City Council members that similar technology is being used in Europe, and there are no problems with smell or pollutants.

In December, the council approved general endorsements of the plan – a step toward the plant using Mecklenburg’s trash. Forsite still needs approval from Mecklenburg County and the state.

‘We need to know more’

Meanwhile, folks in Mount Holly are closely monitoring developments.

“We don’t have a lot of say-so in the licensing or other approvals,” said Mayor Bryan Hough. “No one asked us anything, and we have no jurisdiction there. But this is right next door to us. I feel like we need to seek out more objective information before the city takes a stance.”

Lifelong Mount Holly resident Nan Kaylor, who lives within walking distance of the Catawba, said many folks have reservations about the plant.

Most have only a vague notion of what’s being proposed.

“I think the company needs to enlighten us,” said Kaylor, 43. “Mount Holly people are willing to keep an open mind. We need to know more.”

On the Mecklenburg side of the river, across from Mount Holly, a neighborhood watchdog/activist organization is more outspoken about the project.

Tom Davis, a leader of the Catawba River Group, attended a recent forum with ReVenture representatives and said “they are not answering questions. This technology has not been proven in the U.S.”

Among other things, group members are concerned about emissions, not only for residents, but for three new Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools campuses within a mile of the proposed plant.

McKittrick said he’s looking forward to explaining the project to Mount Holly residents. What’s planned for the river can tie in with the local greenway effort, he said.

If a pedestrian walkway were established on the existing N.C. 27 bridge, it would allow the Mount Holly greenway to connect with trails in an “eco-industrial” complex along with the Carolina Thread Trail and the U.S. National Whitewater Center.

“It will open up a lot of opportunities,” McKittrick said. “We think it’s a win-win – a huge public amenity we’re excited about.”

River is key

For Griffin, the potential for linking with an environmentally-friendly development is appealing.

But he’s still guarded about the project.

Too much progress has been made in Mount Holly to spoil things now.

And the Catawba is the key.

“We ignored the river for so long,” Griffin said. “Now we see it as our greatest ally. Few cities can boast of the kind of river frontage we have. We want to give people access to something that is rare and beautiful.”

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By | 2011-01-31T00:37:04+00:00 January 31st, 2011|News|