EDP refiles ‘Project Eagle’ application, attempts to ease community concern

Published 11:06 am Thursday, February 22, 2018

A prospective business that could bring a 275-job, $100-million project to Danville would be a “great environmental steward,” according to Economic Development Partnership CEO Jody Lassiter.

“Project Eagle,” as the EDP identifies it, is in need of a variance from the local Board of Adjustments that would allow it to build a facility that would stand up to 150 feet high — 90 feet taller than zoning regulations currently allow.

What such a structure might be has not been released, leading to concerns from members of the Board of Adjustments about what environmental impacts it could have, EDP Board Chair Ben Nelson said Wednesday during a briefing for EDP members on Project Eagle.

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But Lassiter is bound by a non-disclosure agreement, preventing him from revealing details about the project.

“The Board of Adjustments rightfully is concerned about anything that might harm public health,” Nelson said. “So the question really becomes what can we or can we not disclose about this project that would assure them we as a partnership would not be advocating for something that would harm our community?”

Lassiter said the EDP is following in the tradition of former Industrial Foundation leader John Hill Bailey, who said, “In Danville-Boyle County, we recruit good corporate citizens.”

“That is an important organizational priority that’s been set a long time ago by the Industrial Foundation,” Lassiter said. “Now that the EDP is more specifically the project manager and recruiter, we are following in that same vein, and certainly we don’t want to do anything that harms or affects what our other partners are doing in their work downtown, through tourism, small business development. Nor do we want to recruit or invite a company into our community that hurts our other industrial or business development activities. So we just want reinforce the philosophy and the value in which we are pursuing this project aggressively.”

The EDP plans to appear before the Board of Adjustments in March to request the variance for a tract of land currently owned by Norfolk Southern that runs along the west side of the railroad company’s rail line. It will be the third time in as many months that Project Eagle has been on the board’s agenda.

Project Eagle history

In January, the board approved a 150-foot variance for a tract of land in the John Hill Bailey Industrial Park where Project Eagle may locate. There was opposition — board members David Anderson and Jesse Purdy voted against approval.

“We are charged with protecting the community’s health and safety and welfare and the essential character of the area, and we don’t have enough information to assure that whatever this is will not affect any of those things,” Anderson said at the time. “I think that it could, from what we know, affect the essential character of the community. (If it’s) a smokestack for a glass factory, it could affect health, safety and welfare, so I move that we deny.”

But after the January Board of Adjustments meeting, “Project Eagle’s representatives requested that we also propose a direct-serve rail site, because rail is going to be a key feature for the project,” Lassiter said Wednesday. “… The only options that we have to serve the needs of the project are the Norfolk Southern sites located essentially between the Corning facility and the bypass.”

The EDP re-applied to the Board of Adjustments, seeking the same 150-foot variance for the new location. However, as March’s board meeting was convening, the EDP and the client made a last-minute decision to put off the variance request another month.

“When I learned that they have a need for more information to be able to be comfortable in doing what their role is, I suggested that we defer for a month and go back to the client, to Frankfort and see what we can find that we’re able to share, that would assure our community that we’re not going to bring something in that wouldn’t be healthy,” Nelson said Wednesday.

Nelson said words that had been “introduced” by others included “smokestack” and “carcinogens.”

Lassiter called those words “purely speculative.”

“For us to assume (the speculative suggestions are) the case is creating fear in the community that’s not warranted,” Nelson said.

“It was assumed by someone or a body that this was a smokestack, and that’s never been said,” said Danville City Commissioner and EDP board member Denise Terry. “But it’s never been denied. So my question is, can you say yes or no to is it a smokestack?” she asked Lassiter.

“I only know it’s a part of their structure,” Lassiter responded.”

Lassiter noted a Corning factory in Harrodsburg has an area that is probably about 145 to 150 feet tall that “has nothing to do with what i would call their exhaust pipes.”

Lassiter said the old Phillips Lighting facility was approximately 125 feet tall and Burkmann Nutrition’s facilities are around 135 feet tall. Both instances concern facilities in the same general area as the Project Eagle rail-line site.

“It’s not like there’s not anything of that height down there (already),” Terry said.

Lassiter said the new Holiday Inn Express on the south end of the bypass received a variance for the same 60-foot height limitation. “There were no concerns expressed” about that variance, he said.

Nelson reiterated his desire to alleviate the concerns of Board of Adjustments members.

“We have letters from the economic development folks in Frankfort saying we’ve met with this prospect and we’ve kicked the tires on all this regulatory stuff and we think they’re in good shape,” Nelson said. “So the question becomes how much of that can you share without breaching the non-disclosure? I’m advocating that we get after that because I think that we’ve got some misperceptions that have spun up that could adversely impact this opportunity for our community.”

John Albright, a member of the Industrial Foundation and the EDP board, said he thinks there has been “unwarranted fear-mongering on some people in the community” concerning the project.

“There’s been comments that only one entity is charged with the health and welfare and the safety of the community, and I would respectfully disagree,” Albright said. “I think all nine partners in this room are charged … with being cognizant of their responsibilities as far as the health, safety and welfare in the community.”

Lassiter said Danville Mayor Mike Perros made a good point to him about the EDP’s work on another issue — opposing a plan to repurpose a natural gas pipeline in the county to carry explosive and toxic “natural gas liquids.”

“As Mayor Perros pointed out to me — what a contradiction for the EDP to take a position in opposition to the pipeline, and then recruit a ‘carcinogenic polluter’ on the other hand. It makes no sense,” Lassiter said.

New application

On Wednesday, the EDP filed its newest variance application, which will be heard at the Board of Adjustment’s March 15 meeting. With the application, it included a letter about the project, which was reviewed during Wednesday’s EDP board meeting prior to the filing.

“If Danville is chosen as the location for this project, the company must comply with all applicable federal/state regulatory standards, including environmental, as part of the mandatory approvals of its building plan and permitting of its operation by federal/state regulatory agencies,” the letter reads. “State approval of the company’s building plan must be completed before the Danville-Boyle County Planning & Zoning Commission approves the site plan locally. There are multiple safeguards as well as opportunities for community input at different stages as the project progresses.

“In the EDP’s work with Project Eagle representatives, we have been impressed by the company’s attention to and pride in being a good environmental steward. As an example, the company plans to affix solar panels to the roof of its facility to incorporate alternative energy sources in its operation. In fact, one of the questions asked during the company’s December site visit was whether there were any local restrictions to the placement of solar panels on an industrial facility.

“… If Danville is ultimately the selected location for this project, additional details about Project Eagle, its manufacturing operation, and its facility will be fully disclosed and thoroughly vetted in the future development stages that this project must necessarily and successfully navigate.”

Nelson said the letter is a “reaffirmation” that “we’re all on the same team, trying to do the right thing.”

“Where this is kind of a pickle is what we can disclose at this point in time — we have to be sensitive to because we’re still in the due diligence of the process,” he said. “We’re not trying to be secretive, but we have that obligation.”