Heated exchanges between Middletown Mayor Ken Branner and opponents of the project take center stage at Monday night's meeting.
Despite a resident petition with 513 signatures, and an online petition which has garnered 340 names, requesting more information, the Middletown Council unanimously approved the plan for a data center and natural-gas electricity generating plant on Monday.
The green light by the five member council was a victory to data center and power plant proponents, Mautom LLC, a Milford-based development company owned by Dennis Silicato, of Silicato Development.
Silicato has hired the Dover-based engineering firm Cabe Associates, which is owned by Duffield Associates, the engineering firm that provided consulting services for the failed University of Delaware data center project, according to an article by the firm Datacenter Dynamics.
Silicato and his engineers are now in the process of securing the air permits from DNREC in order to push forward with the estimated $300 million project.
But hundreds of Middletown residents have signed on to opposing the project due to concerns about the pollution, noise, and negative health consequences the power plant may bring.
One of the leaders of a group of concerned citizens, Peter Sullivan, has been vocal at town council meetings and in the community saying that Silicato and his engineers, as well as Middletown Mayor Ken Branner have not provided residents with information about the type and amount of pollution that will be generated by the plant.
At the last meeting, Sullivan attempted to seek answers about the health impacts of the proposed power plant, but the exchanges between him and Branner were often tense, leading to laughter in the room from many in the audience, some heckling, and on your face remarks from both sides.
Another citizen, Alan Harris also sought to get information on the need for the power plant.
“Why do we have to build something that is going to add to the pollution in the area where we already have very high cancer rates?” Harris had said during Monday’s meeting. “In Delaware those are already ridiculous high rates.”
But Harris and Sullivan said that they couldn’t get far with Branner due to frequent interruptions.
“I found Mayor Branner's behavior inappropriate at the town hall meeting on Monday. Several times as citizens were presenting their questions, the mayor seemed to purposely intimidate and rush them,” Sullivan said. “If the mayor's goal is to avoid answering our questions and knock people off balance, this behavior makes sense. If his goal is to keep timid people from even engaging, then this behavior would also make sense.”
For his part, Harris told the Transcript that those who expressed support for the project were treated with more respect.
“Those who have questions about the project were continually questioned and felt pressured to shorten statements, while those who rose in support were allowed to talk uninterrupted, “ Harris said.
But Branner and the town council were persuaded to approve the project by its proponents who argued that the data center and its power plant are on par with the town’s comprehensive plan written in 2012.
Mark Dunkle, from Parkowski, Guerke & Swayze, the Dover-based law firm that represents Silicato, pointed out that the project would be a significant investment in Middletown and would bring an estimated 125 high-paying jobs to the area.
Dunkle also told the audience that the project will use the latest in technology for the plant’s operations.
The process about the feasibility of a power plant in the town will continue. The ball is now on DNREC’s court which will review Mautom LLC’s request for air permits.
If DNREC approves the air permits, the Town of Middletown will schedule a tariff meeting where the public will be able to offer more input before the project breaks ground.