Residents at Monday’s Comanche County Commissioners meeting are concerned about the health effects of the Westwin Elements project, and the potential effect on land, air and water.
And they want answers.
Commissioners couldn’t help — the property in question is located inside the Lawton city limits — but they did give a crowd of mostly county residents a chance to air their concerns about a pilot plant for refining cobalt and nickel planned in southwest Lawton at Southwest 112th Street and Bishop Road. Two economic entities and the Lawton City Council were slated to meet on the issue today, but those meetings have been canceled, with a possible rescheduling for next week, officials with the Lawton Economic Development Authority said Monday.
The proposal is for a pilot plant, the forerunner of what will be a full-scale refinery that, once operational, will be the only cobalt refinery in the U.S. Westwin Elements had planned to break ground on the pilot plant in October, but economic development officials have said construction cannot begin until documentation is signed and in place.
Residents who spoke to commissioners Monday don’t want that to happen — ever — and they asked commissioners for help.
“We want the process slowed down on the cobalt plant,” said Larry Cotton, who lives close to the proposed plant. He said the board of commissioners could file a temporary restraining order to slow the process until the public has a chance to read the agreement that will guide Westwin Element’s actions and set the criteria that local economic development entities must follow. “We the public should have access prior to that (meeting).”
Central District Commissioner Johnny Owens said commissioners don’t have any authority over the issue or plant because it is located within the corporate city limits, and commissioners said they have no standing to file for a restraining order.
Residents said they want someone to listen to their concerns about their health and about their land, and asked commissioners to get involved on their behalf.
Petra Artner, who lives one-half mile from the plant site, said the public doesn’t know what is going on.
“I didn’t sign up to be a lab rat,” she said, citing health and environmental effects the plant could have.
Arter said she raises animals and she is fearful of potential contamination to her water supply. She also said property values in that area “will go to zero” and no one will be able to sell their property.
“We’ll lose everything,” she said, adding she also fears the effect on surrounding industries — Goodyear is directly south of the Westwin site, she said — and believes the plant/refinery should be built in the desert, away from people.
Katherine Liontas-Warren, who lives on 28 acres of land east of the tract, said she and others also fear what is going on in the plant will have an effect on water in the area. She noted the growing number of residents who are living in that area of Comanche County, pointing to new housing along Deyo Mission Road and asking why those residents aren’t being taken into account.
“Is money king in Lawton, Oklahoma?” she asked, drawing a chorus of yeses from others in the crowd.
Several residents said their biggest concern is that they have questions and nobody will answer them, meaning residents are being kept in the dark about the project.
“No one knows what’s going on,” said Becky Leckey.
“We feel like we’re not being heard,” another resident said.
Commissioners said they were limited on what they could do.
“We didn’t vote for this,” said Western District Commissioner Josh Powers, explaining the Westwin project wasn’t brought before county commissioners because they have no standing in the project, from a governmental point of view. “We don’t have the authority to start or stop this.
“As much as you have been told we can, we can’t.”
Powers said he lives in western Comanche County, and he has discussed the issue with the Comanche County Industrial Development Authority and Lawton Economic Development Authority chairmen, and with several council members. Owens said he, too, would share concerns with economic development entities.