Town Council Airs LU Smoke Concerns

Published 4:54 pm Tuesday, March 13, 2012

FARMVILLE – Longwood University has blamed wet sawdust for the amount of smoke blowing across downtown Farmville from its heating plant.

Town Council discussed the smoke during its March work session last Wednesday, council member Tommy Pairet raising 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.”

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Pairet, who was not the only council member to have received complaints about the smoke, added that, “I've had four people in the last week to 10 days approach me about the smoke from Longwood and wanted to know if there was anything that could possibly be done to eliminate (it). I don't know enough about it to know but there's a lot of people who are starting to get concerned.”

Council member Dr. Edward I. Gordon, a Farmville physician, is also a member of the Longwood University Board of Visitors. He said the heating plant was discussed at the last Board of Visitors meeting “because it's a state of the art system and my understanding is that (smoky emissions) isn't supposed to be happening. I talked to Gerry yesterday because I've been getting complaints…I feel like something's wrong…We probably ought to get some statement from Longwood on if that is functioning correctly, because if it is functioning correctly we've got a problem…”

“Yeah,” agreed Pairet.

Dr. Gordon said there were people in his office discussing the smoky haze downtown and also wondering if “there was a fire downtown.”

Town Council instructed Spates to contact Longwood officials about the Town's, and the public's, concern regarding the smoke.

Responding to a request from The Herald for a statement about the smoke, the university issued three paragraphs on Wednesday saying that, “The smoke that people in downtown Farmville and on the Longwood University campus may have noticed earlier this week was the result of a batch of wet sawdust that inadvertently was mixed into the fuel stream of Longwood's heating plant. When this happens, some smoke is emitted as a result.”

The university's statement added that, “Longwood has procedures in place to lower the probability of wet sawdust being introduced into the heating plant's fuel stream, and the university is continuously working to improve those procedures. However, the sawdust must be stored outdoors, where it is subject to rain and other precipitation.”

The university also noted that, “About 80 percent of Longwood's energy comes from burning sawdust, a renewable and cost-effective energy source. Annual savings for Longwood – and therefore the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Virginia – from burning sawdust instead of fuel oil are substantial, and amounted to $2.8 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year.”

Dr. Gordon said the university's Board of Visitors had been previously told that smoke from the heating plant is “more or less what they want to call clean smoke.”

That statement prompted chuckles around the Town Council table.

“Vapor, of course, is a clean smoke. But that kind of smoke,” Dr. Gordon continued, regarding the complaint-producing 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. So it does need to have a dispersal with it. So I think we need to ask Longwood…for some kind of a statement. I am hearing quite a bit about it and I think we need to do something.

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

Town Manager Spates said, “I'm surprised somebody hasn't called the Air Pollution Control Board.”

Describing the LU heating plant, Dr. Gordon called it a “a really high class, state-of-the-art system…We've seen the specs on it. Other areas are looking at it. The system is a really good system. That's why I have a feeling something might be wrong. Or maybe it is a new system and maybe there needs to be some fine-tuning, I don't know. But this has been presented to us, at Longwood, as a state-of-the-art type of thing…Something might be out of sync.”

Smoke was again seen blowing off campus into downtown Farmville on Monday afternoon this week at about 1:15 p.m. and Tuesday morning saw a smoky haze downtown at approximately 8:45 a.m.

The university is on spring break this week.