The county Board of Commissioners must make a difficult decision on Monday night, and the only certainty is someone will leave the meeting unhappy.
The commissioners for the second time are fielding a request for a conditional-use permit that Eric T. Locklear, president of Bio-Solutions LLC, needs to operate a biodiesel manufacturing facility on a fraction of a 10-acre tract on Kessie Drive that his family owns. The commissioners originally denied the request, but Locklear appealed to the county Board of Zoning and won after he provided additional information that allayed concerns. That board, which is comprised of commissioners wearing a different hat, then bounced the issue over to Board of Commissioners, which has the final call.
The problem is that the land leans up against Purnell Swett High School and a residential neighborhood. Opponents have organized and will be in full throat on Monday.
They say that methanol and glycerin, two chemicals in the biodiesel recipe, are flammable and would create a health hazard. They worry about the facility making it difficult to acquire homeowner’s insurance and declining property values. There are about 1,700 other concerns — the approximate number of students who attend Purnell Swett and whose safety must be guaranteed.
Locklear, who boasts multiple degrees and experience in the industry, argues that the threat is being exaggerated and that the facility’s footprint would be modest. He says no more than 270 gallons of biodiesel would be produced in a single day, and that there would never be more than 1,000 gallons stored on site. He plans on delivering the product, which provides an energy savings to consumers, and that there would not be incoming traffic.
Biodiesel is an emerging green technology, one that needs to be championed, and the county Board of Commissioners is duty bound, in our opinion, to promote commerce when reasonable.
But there is a reason that Locklear needs a conditional-use permit: Such a facility is banned from the area by zoning because it doesn’t blend in well with what’s already there. So the burden should fall heavily on Locklear to convince the commissioners that his facility would not be a safety hazard, and that its presence would not be a wart on the face of the community.
If Locklear can’t meet that muster, a hard decision for the county commissioners should become easy.