POMPANDO BEACH, Florida -- More than 500 people packed the Pompano Beach Civic Center on Monday night in a formidable display of opposition to Enron Corp.'s plans for a power plant next to Florida's Turnpike.
Opponents arrived in buses chartered by condominiums. They came from virtually all the cities of north Broward County, some holding signs, others clutching notes for statements they wanted to make. They included a member of Congress, two county commissioners and a parade of city officials.
Enron officials insisted they weren't jarred by the display of opposition. But spokesman Eric Thode acknowledged he hadn't seen anything like it in other
parts of the United States where the company has built plants.
The hearing was called by the state Department of Environmental Protection to take comments on the agency's preliminary decision to issue the company a
permit. The agency had found that the 510-megawatt plant would not harm the region's air quality.
But few people in the crowd were buying that. They expressed suspicion about Enron's promise to run the plant only as a part-time, backup facility. They said the region didn't need the power and that the company would simply sell it elsewhere. And they doubted whether state officials sitting onstage could know everything about the possible harm the plant could cause.
"Don't let them tell us these chemicals are perfectly safe for us," said Claire Hornstein, of Pompano Beach. "They do not know, and we're not nave enough to believe it."
Speakers expressed concern about their health and their children's health.
Craig Wolf, of Coconut Creek, said he had been in the hospital 47 times for lung problems. He moved from Miami to escape the pollution, and now he fears it will follow him to his current home.
"This could cause me to end up in the hospital," he said. "Please don't do this project.
Dan Mackey, of Coconut Creek, arrived with a hand-drawn sign that read, "Think of Our Kids. Stuff the Stacks." Aware of the company's political
influence, such as its close ties to President Bush, Mackey said he wondered how much of a chance opponents had.
"We're afraid of Enron," said Mackey, who has a 10-year-old daughter. "We don't feel we're in very good shape against them."
U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., spoke against the project, asking the DEP officials seated in front to consider public health first.
"I think the people in this room and every resident of Broward County is owed a presumption that the state will give every benefit of the doubt to health," he said.
Also speaking against the plant were County Commissioners Kristin Jacobs and Ilene Lieberman. A procession of mayors and commissioners from the cities
around Pompano Beach took turns at the microphone.
"I worry about the young kids with asthma and the seniors with emphysema," said Coconut Creek Commissioner Becky Tooley. "Are you going to take away
somebody's last breath just to make some money? I don't think so."
Thode, the Enron spokesman, expressed irritation at the statements from the politicians.
"The thing that gets me is that we've met with these people, given them the facts, and they continue to say things that are not true," he said. "Selling outside the state of Florida -- not going to happen. The only way we operate is when a utility needs the electricity."
The DEP is scheduled to work on its final permit. But four cities have filed a request to delay the permit so they can petition for an administrative hearing.
The real decision on whether the plant gets built could belong to the Pompano Beach City Commission. The commission is scheduled to vote April 10 on whether to rezone 28 acres for the plant from industrial to utility. At this point, it appears the vote will be close.
"It's not what we need in our neighborhood," said Jim Story, of Deerfield Beach. "It's not what we need for our families, for our health, our property values. We don't like the traffic that the fuel trucks will cause. I've lived here 30 years. I remember when they built the landfill, the incinerator. Perhaps they'd like to put in a smelting plant."
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