YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Members of the community met Thursday night to discuss the proposed SOBE plant. Formerly Youngstown Thermal, SOBE Thermal Energy Systems would be a recycling facility for tires and plastics. Those waste materials would be turned into a synthetic gas and burned, heating parts of downtown Youngstown. Still, people have questions about the safety and environmental impact of the facility.
Close to two dozen concerned citizens attended the meeting at the Dorothy Day House. Their concerns ranged from disbelief that the technology would work to possible dangers if any part of the proposed facility should malfunction.
“No plant on record anywhere doing gasification that is working,” said Silverio Caggiano, retired battalion chief for the Youngstown Fire Department.
Caggiano has 30 years of experience as a hazardous materials specialist and spent nearly 40 years with the fire department. He shared his concerns about the SOBE plant.
“They’re prone to problems, explosions, fires. When they have their bad days, they’re releasing all kind of cancerous toxins into the air,” Caggiano said.
Other people at the meeting said they want to see hard data on emissions.
“I mean, everybody’s saying the same thing, where’s the data? Where’s the data? How do we know this is safe?” said Lynn Anderson, a concerned citizen.
When we talked to SOBE CEO Dave Ferro on the phone Thursday afternoon, he said his plant would be as clean or cleaner than natural gas.
“We knew that once we can demonstrate that we can do this safely and provide an entire community with clean, low-cost energy, then it starts to change the way we approach these problems in the future,” Ferro said.
The organizers of the meeting wanted to have it with just the community involved, so they said that’s why Ferro was not invited.
Ferro said the SOBE facility has the potential to prevent millions of pounds of waste from going into landfills.
“At this facility, we’re likely to use somewhere between 100 to 500 tons a day. We want to change how we handle our waste streams, want to change how we dedicate our land for landfill,” Ferro said.
But still, people want to know, why Youngstown and not a larger city?
“If he does manage to get the city to buy into this, he’s just going to make this and he’s going to grab the grant money. When the grant money runs out, we’re going to end up with another Chill Can,” Caggiano said.
“Doing it first at a public utility was really just an opportunity that landed in our lap,” Ferro said.
Activists at the meeting said they plan to call a hearing for any of the permits SOBE would need to begin operations for waste conversion. They also want to call a meeting with city council, Ferro and experts to have a public forum to answer their questions about the plant.