Pittsfield Township residents concerned about a chemical company’s plans to build its headquarters and research and development labs next to a park on Textile Road peppered company officials with questions at a forum held Tuesday night at Harvest Elementary School.
Wacker Chemical Corp., based in Raisin Township near Adrian, plans to spend more than $60 million on a 140,000 square-foot “innovation center and regional headquarters” that would open in 2020 and employ about 320 people. The company ran into resistance from residents and some township planners while seeking a rezone the property at the township’s planning commission Jan. 17.
Company officials said they have heard the concerns of residents and township officials and made several changes to its development.
CEO David Wilhoit, an Ann Arbor resident, said Wacker Chemical is dedicated to safety and tried to ease the concerns of residents who were fearful of emissions and potential accidents that could impact the neighborhood, Marshview Meadows Park, and local wetlands. Wilhoit assured residents that chemical production will remain in Lenawee County. The Pittsfield location will be home to company headquarters and some laboratory research, he said. About 70 percent of the building will be dedicated to management, administration, finance and other corporate departments. About 30 percent of the building will be used to develop technologies and test applications for silicone and cyclodextrin, which Wilhoit said were widely used chemicals found in kitchen utensils, adhesives and even food additives.
“I am here to assure you we are building a safe and sustainable workspace and that Wacker will be a strong and enduring member of the Pittsfield community,” Wilhoit said.
Wacker Chemical asked Dr. Allen Burton, a University of Michigan professor in the School of Environment and Sustainability, to conduct an independent safety review. Burton provided Wacker with a video played during the meeting. Burton said the environmental impact would be minimal.
“I do not expect any human health hazards or risks to occur to anyone living near the innovation center property. I do not expect adverse environmental hazards or risks to occur adjacent to their property, as they have established at Adrian they are an environmental conservation steward,” Burton wrote in a report for Wacker.
Burton said the company was “doing everything they’re supposed to do there,” and that the company had the proper facilities, storage containers and spill response procedures. He also noted that if there is a spill it wouldn’t reach the sewer system because the facility does not have floor drains.
The company hired Trinity Consultants to evaluate potential air emissions. Trinity’s report stated that emissions from the proposed research and development labs were found to be “significantly less than one typical gas station and less than the automobile exhaust from the nearby one-mile stretch of State Road.”
Wilhoit said that based on comments from citizens and planners, the company was moving the location of the facility back toward the middle of its 18-acre site. He also said the company planned more trees and shrubs along Textile Road, enhance the way the property ties into the park, and present a building more consistent with surrounding buildings.
The facility is planned for Avis Farms South.
Still, the Pittsfield Township residents who attended still had concerns.
One concern is the height of the building – which is 58 feet tall. Company officials said that’s a little misleading. The building itself is about 35 feet tall, they said, but the ventilation equipment atop the building accounted for the rest of the height.
More concerning, one resident said, was the reported 529 pounds of emissions expected annually. One company official said air emissions are well below Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Standards. He said about half the chemicals emitted were more than a million times below MDEQ standards. He said all but eight chemicals are more than 1,000 times lower than DEQ standards. And, he said, the chemical emission with the highest concentration was still 13 times lower than the DEQ standard.
One resident asked if Wacker Chemical will seek a tax abatement. CFO Paul Mason said the company likely would seek a tax abatement. When asked, he would not speculate how the company would react if the township denied an abatement request.
One resident asked if carcinogens would be used.
A company official stated that small volumes of possible carcinogens would be used and that they would be handled in accordance with manufacturing procedures.
“Our employees are well trained and have years of experience handling chemicals. It all gets back to good chemical handing procedures,” he said.
He also emphasized that the research and development lab would handle jars of chemicals – not giant bulk containers one would expect at a manufacturing company.
“We have employees who live in the neighborhood. I have a colleague who lives close by and plans to walk to work. He has a young child. I understand that when you are not accustomed to being around chemicals, there is a fear factor. But we have people who work with them every day and they plan to live right next to the facility,” he said.
Christina Lirones is a former elected township official who lives on a farm near the facility. Lirones, who was opposed to the paving of Textile Road, is not happy with the Wacker’s plans.
“I have no interest in your project coming to this area. The height is much to high. The building does not meet the criteria for the property. We don’t need it here. We don’t want it here. We certainly don’t want it next to our park,” Lirones said.
She also said the property was subject to a consent judgment that might prevent Wacker’s development.
The township’s planning commission is expected to take another look at Wacker Chemical’s rezoning request at an upcoming meeting.