Although it would not be visible from here, a Combined Heat & Energy Plant (CHP) is proposed near SEPTA’s Midvale Complex in North Philadelphia. It would use twin natural generators to power the Wayne Junction Substation. — Abdul Sulayman/Tribune Chief Photographer

In a last-ditch effort to show their opposition to a proposed natural gas plant in Nicetown, at least half of the 40 or so residents gathered Tuesday at a final public hearing concerning the proposed SEPTA project voiced their disapproval.

Gathered at Panati playground located in the 3100 block of north 22nd Street, the overriding concern over the proposed $22.6 million project were the potential health risks for the immediate and surrounding neighbors of the plant, which would be built at 4301 Wissahickon Ave. SEPTA has already received draft-plan approval and is awaiting final approval for the project.

Retired teacher Lynn Robinson, a Germantown native, compared the pollutants that she says will result from the plant to the choking of Eric Garner. The asthmatic Garner was choked to death by police in July 2014 while being arrested for selling loose cigarettes on a Staten Island corner.

“I am at a point where I can retire, and have the option to relocate, yet right now it is my turf,” Robinson said. “I am angry about the principle of the thing. It’s criminal to pollute the air where working people and children are trapped.

“Eric Garner’s murder has influenced me,” continued Robinson, who is white. “Polluting a neighborhood is to choke not one but a large mass of people.”

Now the waiting games begins. The hearing marked the end of the public comment period. Now it it is up to Air Management Services, which conducted the hearing, to determine whether the plant should be built. Representatives of the organization at Tuesday’s meeting did not give a time frame for the organization’s decision.

While natural gas burns more cleanly than other fuels, it does release “particulate matter,” which is basically soot. Particulate matter lingers in the air and has been proven to contribute to lung cancer, asthma and other chronic sicknesses.

A 2016 report from the American Lung Association found that Philadelphia has the 12th-worst air particle pollution in the country. According to Councilwoman Cindy Bass, the zip code adjacent to the Wayne Junction train station (19140) has the highest rate of childhood asthma hospitalization and the third highest number of asthma cases in the city.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Nicetown has more particulate pollution than 78 percent of neighborhoods around the country. According to the 2010 census, the neighborhood within a half-mile of the proposed site is 92.6 percent African American. And within one mile the site the population is 91 percent African American.

SEPTA officials told the Tribune earlier this year their project meets all standards imposed by the EPA and local, state and national guidelines. SEPTA chief engineer Dave Montvydas said the plant will cut carbon dioxide output by more than 40 percent and reduce particulates by almost 100 percent.

“The plant has been designed using the industry’s best available technology to reduce emissions, and that is why it meets all of those guidelines,” said Erik Johanson, director of innovation at SEPTA.

SEPTA announced its plan for the North Philadelphia natural gas plant in October 2015. A little more than a year later, in November 2016, SEPTA’s board voted unanimously, 11-0, to approve the $26.8 million project, touting it as one of two initiatives designed to increase SEPTA’s environmental sustainability and cut costs. Called a combined heat and power plant (CHP), the project would create natural gas generators to power the Wayne Junction station and the Midvale bus garage.

SEPTA wants to build the 8.8-megawatt plant as a means to give it independence from PECO blackouts for the northern section of its Regional Rail without costing additional money. SEPTA has contacted Noresco, a nationally certified energy savings company, to design the plant.

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