BIG RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Leaders in the Big Rapids area held a panel Wednesday to address concerns over a planned electric vehicle battery plant project, which was moved to a virtual format due to threats and security concerns.
While the panel was taking place, a large protest in opposition to the plant was held along South State Street near Ferris State University.
“We want to grow but we want to grow right,” said Isaiah Davison, a protest organizer.
The EV battery plant was proposed by China-based company Gotion and it’s expected to bring more than 2,000 jobs and $2 billion in investment to the area, but some residents have major concerns.
One of the concerns is the environmental impact of the chemicals used to produce batteries.
“We’ll be forced out, absolutely forced out, because we don’t want to live with that type of pollution,” said Lori Brock, a Green Charter Township resident.
Residents at the protest also had worries about maintaining a small-town feel if more than 300 acres near the Roben-Hood Airport are developed for a manufacturing facility. The site will be in an industrial park northwest of the airport near US-131.
“I feel if you want a big city, then move to a big city. People like the small-town environment,” said Amy Cook, a Green Charter Township resident.
Concerns were also raised over the company’s ties to China. The Midwesterner, a conservative news site, recently reported that Gotion’s bylaws “lays out the company’s governance structure and allegiance to the Constitution of the Communist Party of China.”
“Let’s see if we can find an American company, is there anything wrong with giving something to an American company to build jobs here?” asked Perry Johnson, a presidential candidate and Michigan businessman.
During the virtual panel, Gotion’s Global Vice President Chuck Thelen addressed some of the worries.
“Despite what any current politician might say, there is no Communist plot within Gotion to make Big Rapids a center to spread communism,” Thelen said.
Thelen also spoke about environmental effects and said the plant’s waste will not be pumped into the nearby water sources.
“The water that we use never comes in contact with the materials that we process, if you get these materials wet, you destroy the material, so no, we will not be pumping materials or minerals or chemicals into the water,” Thelen said.
He said the plant will improve lives in the Big Rapids area, instead of taking away from them.
“If we were to stop this project they would be happy but it would result in the young people in this area being denied financial stability,” Thelen said.
Davison said due to the magnitude of the project, he thinks the public should have more of a say.
“Let’s bring it up to a vote of not only Green Township but the surrounding townships because it’s going to affect everybody,” Davison said.
Another protest is scheduled for April 22 at a farm near the proposed site.