IXONIA — In light of what it says are “scare tactics” and a “misinformation” campaign, We Energies has issued more details and clarifications on the liquified natural gas facility it is proposing in the Town of Ixonia.
Brendan Conway, media relations manager for WEC Energy Group, We Energies, said Wednesday that some residents’ claims that the utility is not communicating sufficiently with them is inaccurate and went on to say that a website set up at saveixonia.com in opposition to the construction of the facility is rife with inaccuracies.
In a separate citizen-organized effort, Amy Rinard, who represents Ixonia on the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors, and Dyan Pasono, have teamed to create the gofundme page, “Save Ixonia from We Energies LNG facility.” As of Wednesday, the site had collected $1,525 of its $10,000 goal from eight donors. The money is intended to be used to cover costs of legal fees and community outreach.
Mary Rupnow of Ixonia, a vocal opponent of the project, called her town’s current situation, “ … the most important fight of our time.”
“It is criminal that we have to put so much time, money and energy into fighting a facility that is so clearly wrong for our community,” Rupnow said. “This will affect everyone within 2 miles of the site. We need to save Ixonia from turning into an industrial wasteland. We need to ensure the safety of our community. We need to preserve our land for our children and grandchildren.”
Referring to claims on the saveixonia.com site, Conway said every argument on it is factually wrong or misleading.
“Every single thing is just not true,” he said, adding We Energies is heavily regulated by the state, while the website and others who have contacted the Daily Times to say they have not been kept informed about the project, are not. He said We Energies has sent mailings to approximately 2,200 homeowners in the Ixonia area after obtaining a list of property owners and others who would be affected by the proposed facility.
“They say they didn’t get (our contacts). We’re good at this. Excuse my frustration, but we do this all the time. We’re under state regulations. There is no evidence we did not (make contacts). The Watertown Daily Times and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel have done articles on this, as has another area paper. We have a phone number people can call. We will come and meet with people if they would like. We sent our initial letter in May. We have been in communication with the Town of Ixonia and we have a fact sheet and contact information at the town hall. We have done not the minimum of (outreach) on this, but we have done a load of it. We will be happy to meet with anyone and answer their general, or specific, questions. I reject, strongly, that we have not been transparent about this.”
Conway said We Energies’ goal since the beginning of the project has been to make information available to everyone in the town.
“We want the facts out there, so people can judge this for themselves,” he said.
We Energies’ most recent U.S. Postal Service mailing on the proposed fuel storage facility is dated Aug. 20. In it, Project Manager Rick O’Conor reviewed the status of the project and discussed its background. He also worked to dispel what he said has been misinformation put before the public by members of the local citizenry.
He said, in June, We Energies submitted to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin its proposal to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in Ixonia. He said the project is needed to enhance the reliability of natural gas supply throughout southeastern Wisconsin, provide significant customer savings and allow greater independence from interstate pipelines. He said the investment would also provide an additional source of revenue for the Town of Ixonia and Jefferson County.
“Since our filing, we have had the opportunity to talk with many residents and present our plans at the Ixonia Plan Commission meeting in July,” O’Conor said, adding this most recent letter to residents provides an overview of the project, an update on the proposal and addresses some of the “misinformation” that has surfaced.
He said safety is always We Energies’ first priority.
“We have operated similar facilities for over 50 years without an incident,” he said. “While the type of facility we are proposing is common across the country, this project will incorporate state-of-the-art safety and monitoring features that minimize risks to the public and exceed federal, state, local and industry standards. In addition to regular inspections and 24/7 monitoring, specialized instrumentation is used to detect any potential issues and allow activation of the emergency shutdown system.”
O’Conor said the proposed project is being sited on a property that provides a setback from the community in accordance with the state Department of Transportation and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration requirements to keep any incident contained to the property. He said We Energies anticipates the project will take up approximately 25 acres of the approximately 165-acre site. This allows for enhanced security and safety measures, including berms, a tank containment area and fencing.
“We want to correct the inaccurate information being shared that there is a predetermined ‘evacuation zone’ that could potentially impact properties a mile or more away,” he said. “This is not true. Our footprint has been appropriately sized to provide a safety setback at our site. As is standard with all of our energy infrastructure, including other LNG facilities, we take steps to protect our neighbors and our employees in all we do.”
He said the facility will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week and personnel will coordinate with local emergency responders to provide education about the facility’s operations and any specialized training needed.
O’Conor discussed what he said would be the benefits of the facility to the community.
“Our company and our facilities have co-existed and played an important role in the development of thriving communities throughout Wisconsin for decades,” he said. “This investment provides financial benefits to your community, while also allowing continued agricultural land use around the site.”
The Town of Ixonia is expected to receive more than $500,000 annually and Jefferson County more than $1 million annually in shared revenue payments from the State of Wisconsin if the facility becomes a reality. This money can be used by the municipality as it deems appropriate.
O’Conor said natural gas service is currently available in parts of Ixonia and as part of this project, his firm will be extending natural gas to the site and would like to expand natural gas service to other interested residents.
“After we complete our analysis, we will seek approval from state regulators to accommodate this expansion,” he said, adding people interested in receiving natural gas service, or learning more, should call We Energies at 877-380-0522, so its staff can evaluate the level of interest and keep the public posted on progress.
O’Conor said We Energies has a long-standing commitment to protecting the environment and being a responsible corporate citizen. He said as part of the permitting process through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, an environmental review will be completed prior to design and construction. According to O’Conor, preliminary environmental surveys already indicate that the site is suitable for the proposed facility.
We Energies will complete a traffic study, O’Conor said, and work with local authorities to develop preferred routes for any truck traffic during construction.
“We also will work with the town to minimize any traffic impacts and will repair any road damage as a result of construction activities,” he said. “During normal operation of the facility, we anticipate minimal truck traffic.”
Rinard said the We Energies mailing of Aug. 20, “ ... repeats the only argument We Energies has ever made for building this massive industrial-like facility in a rural area close to more than 100 homes, a school, two group homes, a wetland and environmental corridor — and that argument is money. The town and the county would stand to get some state tax revenue if it is built, but I have not heard one single Ixonia resident say it’s worth it.”
The Ixonia Town Board meets Sept. 14 and is expected to vote on a recommendation to the Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Committee on whether to issue a conditional use permit for the We Energies facility. The town plan commission voted July 22 not to recommend approval of the conditional use permit.
Conway said We Energies will host informational sessions by appointment Sept. 3, at the Chivaree, N8345 Park St. in Ixonia, for anyone interested in learning more about the project.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, appointments for the Sept. 3 session will be scheduled every 30 minutes from 2 to 7:30 p.m., with a limited number of people in each session to ensure adequate spacing. We Energies will be following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safety guidelines and the state requirements for face masks. Call 877-380-0522 to learn more about the project, or to set up an appointment for the informational meeting.