Decision deferred on Port Townsend paper mill landfill permit
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Public Health Officer Tom Locke listens as Eeveleen Muehlethaler, environmental officer for Port Townsend Paper Corp., at a hearing Wednesday.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Dr. Tom Locke, public health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, deferred a decision Wednesday on whether to uphold or strike down the Jefferson County Public Health Department's denial of an extension of a permit that designates as inert a landfill at the Port Townsend Paper Corp. mill.

“There is a lot of technical material here that I haven't read,” Locke said after a full day of testimony attended by about 60 people at the Masonic Lodge at 1338 Jefferson St. in Port Townsend.

Locke is required within 30 days to render a decision, which can be appealed to the state Pollution Control Hearings Board.

At issue is whether Port Townsend Paper Corp.'s mill should be granted an inert waste permit — which it has had since 1989 — or if the denial of the permit by the public health department will stand, and the mill will be required to acquire a more-stringent limited-use permit.

“We have worked with an approved process as to what the standards would be, and we have been working within those limits,” said Leslie Nellermoe, an attorney for the mill.

“We have looked at the regulations and find certainty that the permit denial should be reversed and the permit should be granted.”

Jefferson County Chief Civil Deputy David Alvarez said the public health department's permit decision should be upheld.

“We would ask that the Jefferson County health officer affirm his decision to deny the permit,” he said.

As a judge, Locke did not participate in the discussion or ask questions.

Earlier, Locke had said the granting of the original permit was in error because more is known about waste than when it was first granted.

Nellermoe called as witnesses the Port Townsend Paper Corp. environmental officer, Eveleen Muehlethaler, and geologist Brian Butler.

Alvarez called Jefferson County Environmental Officer Pinky Feria Mingo and Department of Ecology employees Wayne Krafft and William Harris, Peter Lyon and Tom Culhane.

The waste generated by the mill consists of wood ash lime grit on a 6-to-1 ratio and has a pH rating of 11 to 12, mill witnesses said.

Solutions with a pH of less than 7 are said to be acidic, and solutions with a pH greater than 7 are basic or alkaline.

The witnesses presented by Alvarez all said any pH rating above 8.5 should not be defined as inert.

Muehlethaler said she disagreed that a pH of 8.5 is too high to qualify as inert, saying, “There is nothing in science or regulations” that supports that designation.

Nellermoe said the appeal was not predicated on where inert begins on the pH scale but that the mill's levels are within the scope of current regulations.

Muehlethaler and Mingo testified about the steps that led to the denial of the permit.

Muehlethaler said the requirements for an inert level of waste and the type of waste generated by the mill have not changed, so there is no reason the permit should be denied.

“The processes that generate these wastes haven't changed since 1989, and what the mill has produced has been consistent,” Muehlethaler said.

“The landfill is a well-designed site that is ideally used as a landfill.”

Muehlethaler said the mill had worked with the county for one year fashioning a compromise that would allow the inert designation, and she said she was surprised when the permit was denied.

“Information can change, and data can change, but if they just change their minds, that's not really kosher,” she said.

Mingo, who prepared the staff report supporting the denial of the inert permit, said definitions have changed.

“We found overwhelming evidence that the landfill does not meet the definition of inert,” she said.

“Anything with a pH of 8.5 or above should not be considered inert waste.”

Kraft said he was not aware of another facility with comparable output that had been granted inert status and that such a permit for the mill was “a unique situation.”

For its annual permit renewal in September, the mill applied for an extension of its inert classification, which the county health department denied Oct. 17.

In his denial of the permit, Locke talked of concerns about the changing nature of waste generated by the mill during operation of an expanded biomass cogeneration plant.

The $55 million, 24-megawatt biomass plant is planned to be operative next year.

The mill appealed the decision Oct. 22, triggering Wednesday's hearing to review the decision.

Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at

Last modified: November 28. 2012 6:10PM
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