New Parris Island power plant raises concerns for neighbors

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By Kat Walsh

A new power plant with extensive solar facilities intended to provide energy conservation is coming to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.

However, some neighbors of Parris Island, like those in Port Royal and on Cat Island, are concerned that the noise from the new plant and other factors will hurt their communities.

Under the proposed Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC), approximately 25 energy conservation measures will be installed at the new plant, including a combined heat and power plant; a ground-mounted solar facility; a carport-mounted solar facility; a battery solar energy storage system; and approximately 20 other types of building/system improvements.

Collectively, these measures will help satisfy federal policies and standards for increasing the use of renewable and alternative energy, enhancing sustainability and reducing energy and water use.

The first steps

In the initial phase of the proposal, the Marine Corps conducted an environmental assessment (EA) that looked at the potential direct, indirect and short- and long-term impacts of the project on people and the environment.

“In order to fully consider all potential concerns, the Marine Corps invited the public to assist in developing the scope of environmental analyses desired to be a part of our decision-making process,” said Timothy Harrington, environmental director at Parris Island.

Letters inviting comments and a fact sheet that provided an overview of the proposed action were mailed to 80 state and local agency representatives, elected officials and members of the public.

During the comment period, 28 letters were received. Issues of concern included the potential for noise and visual impacts, and impacts on biological and cultural resources.

Michael Buckingham, a resident of the Dolphin Point neighborhood on Cat Island, received a letter and fact sheet, and, like many of his neighbors, wrote a letter of comment in return.

“My main problem was the noise and vibrations that can be produced by such a turbine,” said Buckingham.

Project specifics 

The new plant will replace the existing steam power plant, which was deemed “outdated and inefficient and in operation long past its useful life,” according to the EA.

The EA, a 316-page document released on Nov. 28, also concluded “that the project will result in no significant impacts to the environment.”

But that didn’t reduce worries about noise and construction.

Harrington addressed these concerns in the EA summary, stating, “The environmental assessment considers the noise that could be produced from the new … power plant and takes measures to reduce impacts.”

The EA found that construction of the plant would generate temporary noise that would be perceptible to residences on Cat Island and Port Royal.

The combined sound level from background noise and construction of the plant would be 52dBA (weighted decibels) for Cat Island and 48.5 dBA for Port Royal.

For comparison, an air conditioner from 100 feet away produces 60 dBa.

These levels are lower than the EPA guidance of 55 dBA for avoidance of adverse effects.

Additionally, various features are included in the design that will minimize long-term noise generated by the operation of the plant. Based on modeling, operational noise from the plant would also be below EPA guidance levels and the impact would not be significant, according to the Marine Corps.

Next steps

The opportunity for the public to comment and provide feedback was extended to Dec. 28.

If there are no substantive comments or additional information warranting further evaluation for any significant environmental impact following internal review, the USMC anticipates issuing a “Finding of No Significant Impact” based on the conclusions of the EA and proceeding with the project.

The EA is available for viewing at the Beaufort Branch Library at 311 Scott St.