LU Is Trying To Clear Air

Published 5:14 pm Tuesday, March 27, 2012

FARMVILLE – Longwood University will soon have five engineering firms trying to solve the smoke emission problems of its state-of-the-art wood-fire heating plant.

The university shut down its wood-fire boilers Monday following smoky emissions that morning but town residents, especially those living or working downtown, may see additional smoke before the problem is solved, according to LU spokespersons who updated The Herald.

“There are going to be a total of five engineering firms involved in an assessment over this whole heating plant,” LU's Associate Vice-President for Marketing and Communications, Sabrina Brown, said Friday.

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While the engineers investigate the cause and contemplate solutions, Ms. Brown said, the wood-fire boilers will be reactivated.

“They're going to have to stress the system. They're going to have it working and stress it so that they can see what's causing it-sort of like you take your car to the shop (and) you gotta make it make that sound for the mechanics to be able to figure it out,” Ms. Brown explained.

“So there could be smoke when the consultants are here…They're going to be looking at it obviously,” she said.

“The other three consultants are going to be assessing, they're all assessing those different parts, and then they'll be coming back with a recommendation. We don't know exactly when those are going to be,” she said of when the recommendations might be presented to the university.

Dick Bratcher, LU's Vice President for Facilities Management and Real Property, told The Herald on Monday that the university hopes the consultants will be on campus by the middle of next week.

Bratcher said the shut-down decision was made Monday morning, following a “five to six-minute (smoky) event,” and the wood-fire boilers will remain shut down, off line for a week, until the full complement of consultants arrive.

Longwood has told Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) about the smoke emission problems of the heating plant and apologized for the smoke that has periodically covered portions of downtown and pledged to solve the problem.

Farmville's Town Council expressed its concern with the excessive emissions during its March work session and the issue was raised again during council's regular March meeting.

During Town Council's March work session council member Tommy Pairet raised the subject by relating, “I had two customers yesterday come in who literally had their coat over their face because the smoke was so strong that they said they were having problems breathing.” Pairet's is located on Main Street.

Town Manager Gerald Spates said the smoke was so bad one day that, “I had several calls about it-wanted to know if there was a fire downtown.”

During Town Council's regular March meeting Farmville Mayor Sydnor C. Newman, Jr., emphasized the need for the Town to remain vigilant and make certain the problem is solved by Longwood.

“I think the Town ought to stand behind it and make sure they are working on it because it is a nuisance,” Mayor Newman said, “and if you're walking downtown when the smoke is blowing sometimes it's kind of rough on you.”

Council member, and physician, Dr. Edward I. Gordon said, “It affects the town. You walk into town, or come into the town and it's not going to be good for the town or the college.”

Dr. Gordon, also a member of Longwood University's board of visitors, added, “that kind of smoke is going to be an irritant to the lungs of people with respiratory problems, even if it doesn't contain the sulfur and stuff like that.”

In a statement released by LU earlier this month, Bratcher said, “We apologize for the recent unintentional episodes of smoke that have caused uncomfortable conditions throughout parts of town. It is our goal to be a good neighbor as we strive also to be good stewards of the state's resources.”

On Friday, Ms. Brown said, “I really do think that it's good for the planet if we do get these wood-fire boilers working right. Overall it's better for the planet than fuel oil…So we're going to try. They're doing everything they can. They're really putting a lot of effort into it.

“Sometimes when you're on the cutting edge of technology,” she continued, “there's bugs to be worked out.”

Ms. Brown was accompanied by LU Media Specialist, Gina Caldwell, who said, “Hopefully it will be resolved very soon.”