New biomass call center has fielded several complaints

Published: Friday, November 15, 2013 at 4:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 15, 2013 at 4:22 p.m.

More than a week after it began operation, the call center set up to field complaints about the biomass plant has successfully started to divert those calls from Alachua County’s 911 line.

When the Alachua County Combined Communications Center and Alachua Police Department began getting calls about the biomass plant, it was clear they needed to devise a uniform way of managing them, said Pat Ford-Thomas, bureau chief of the county communications center.

“Initially it was a problem, and we had to get it resolved as to how we were going to handle those types of complaints,” she said.

Sheriff Sadie Darnell, a member of a panel of area law-enforcement and government personnel that has been meeting since mid-October to address local concerns about the biomass plant, suggested creating a call center to draw biomass complaints away from the county communications center, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release.

The call center, which is run by an independent contractor and paid for by Gainesville Regional Utilities, launched on Nov. 7 and immediately began getting calls.

It cost GRU $200 to set up the call center and $0.51 per minute whenever a call comes in, GRU spokeswoman Margaret Crawford said.

Sheriff’s Office spokesman Art Forgey said his agency and other stakeholders get emails from the call center about the complaints it receives. Which agency gets involved depends on the complaint. If it’s a fugitive dust issue, for example, the county Environmental Protection Department will probably handle that.

The first call-center email the Sheriff’s Office got, which came in the morning of Nov. 8, listed seven complaints: five for noise, one about a smoky smell permeating a woman’s house, and a request for information on who was paying attention to biomass-related debris coming from vehicles.

Three of the five people who called about noise coming from the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center facility specifically mentioned it sounded like a jet plane, he said.

The only potential issue people might have with the biomass call center, Forgey said, is that it could take longer to hear back about their complaints than they might expect from a 911 or non-emergency law enforcement phone line.

“I sympathize with those people. I would hate to be the neighbor and have my car covered with dust and have to listen to that noise,” Forgey said of the residents calling in with complaints.

The call center has been pretty effective from day one in diverting calls from the county’s 911 line and other law enforcement agencies, he said.

The county communications center still gets calls about the biomass plant, but Ford-Thomas said the staff takes the time to tell them about the new call center and gives them its number before redirecting them so they know who to call with future complaints.

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