By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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About 60 people attended a public hearing this week at Fort Worden State Park, with 17 testifying.
Several said current issues with the mill should be resolved before any new components are added.
“I don’t know that you actually care about us, and I would like very much for you to take quick action to show us that you are doing the job that we think you are doing,” said Piper Corbett of Port Townsend, addressing representatives of the state Department of Ecology.
“When I returned here four years ago, I found that I can’t breathe in my own home,” Corbett said at the Tuesday hearing.
“I was in Los Angeles last week, and I had less trouble breathing there than here.”
The refiners, which the company hopes to have operating by the end of the year, provide a method of strengthening the pulp used in the paper machine that is cheaper than chemical alternatives, company President Roger Hagan has said.
To take full advantage of the new refiners, the mill will need to produce more pulp, which could produce a 1 percent to 2 percent increase in total emissions from the facility, Hagan has said.
This projected increase falls within legal standards and does not exceed currently established maximum levels, according to Garin Shrieve, the industrial section manager for Ecology.
But opponents of the project say even a small increase in pollutants is too much.
Those who testified spoke out against the project, while many said they were not opposed to the mill’s operation and recognized its importance to the local economy.
Alea Waters, a public health nurse, also compared Los Angeles positively in relation to Port Townsend.
“What shocks me is that the mill and the public health department does not send out an alert like they do in L.A.,” Waters said,
“In L.A., you get an alert and you know that if the air is poor, you can get your oxygen, or if you have COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] or any other ailment, you know not to go outside,” she added.
Waters called for “another health assessment.
“It’s important to take care take care of business, but it’s more important for us to take care of breath.”
Jeanette Ridoux of Port Townsend said the mill should resolve a current problem before beginning a new project that could increase pollutants.
The mill is currently in a mediation process with Jefferson County about the reclassification of its landfill.
County officials say the previous inert classification no longer applies, while the mill said its processes haven’t changed.
Both parties are meeting with an outside mediator. There is no scheduled resolution date, according to Jefferson County Environmental Health Specialist Pinky Feria-Mingo.
“The permit application will take most of 2014 in mediation,” Ridoux said.
“I don’t think they should do something else before they have taken care of this”
Hagan, who attended the hearing only as an observer, said after the hearing that the landfill permit application, the odor study and the new application for the pulp refiners are all separate issues and should not be judged together.
“The mill is in compliance with all of the current regulations and then some,” Hagan said.
“The delay in the landfill permit was not the mill’s doing. We are doing everything we can to resolve that by working with the county, and we feel confident it will be resolved shortly.”
Hagan said there is “an odor situation” at the mill that has built up over time.
“We can’t fix this overnight, but we did get the permit to begin the dredging that will remove the solids that we believe are causing most of the problem,” he added.
Ridoux said: “The smell they are working on is only the indicator of what we are worried about.
“I appreciate their efforts but don’t know if they are doing what we need.”
All of the comments taken at the hearing, online and by mail will be considered by Ecology in preparation of its final report, according to Angie Fritz, who moderated and recorded the hearing.
Public comment will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. Friday.
The recommendation could be released within a month, according to Shrieve.
For more on the project, visit http://tinyurl.com/PDN-ptpaperrefiners or check for documents at the Port Townsend Public Library, 1220 Lawrence St.
Comments can be submitted online at http://tinyurl.com/ptpapercomments, by email to PTPC.firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Stephanie Ogle, P.E., Department of Ecology, Industrial Section, P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504-7600.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at email@example.com.