Port Townsend Paper Corp. mill gets permit to add two pulp refiners

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The state Department of Ecology has approved a permit by Port Townsend Paper Corp. for a $5 million project to add two pulp refiners.

The mill received the permit Monday for the refiners, which mill officials say will strengthen paper pulp more cheaply than chemical alternatives.

“Whatever merits the project may have, the mill states that it will increase air pollution by about 3 percent,” said Gretchen Brewer, director of PT AirWatchers, which opposed the permit.

“The public wants to see decreases in their pollution, not increases.”

Brewer said her group had not decided whether to file an appeal to the Pollution Control Hearings Board, which can be filed within 30 days of the decision.

According to an Ecology document, the new process is predicted to increase emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide and small particulate matter.

The terms of the approval gives the mill 18 months to begin construction.

Kevin Scott, director of sustainability at the mill, said installation refiners would begin late this year and take about six months to complete.

The permit was approved after a public comment period and a May meeting in Port Townsend.

About 60 people had attended the public hearing at Fort Worden State Park, with 17 testifying, many saying that odor and air quality issues with the mill should be resolved before any new components are added.

Stephanie Ogle, an environmental engineer for Ecology, said no changes were made to the proposal after public comments were received.

“We will make changes if there is any new information or if it is determined there are existing rules that we didn’t apply or were misapplied,” she said.

“That wasn’t the case here.”

The refiners will improve the strength properties of the fibers, which will allow the paper machine to process specific grades of paper at a faster speed than they were previously capable of processing them, according to Ecology’s ruling.

The increase will cause several components to operate at a higher rate, which will result in an increase in some emissions from the facility.

Scott said an increase could occur but added that once the refiners are in operation, emissions could decrease.

“The refiners will make our operations more stable, and any time that happens, there is the potential to lower emissions,” Scott said.

“This is a hard thing to communicate during the permitting process.”

Brewer said the public wants a decrease in pollutants and opposes any emissions increases.

“The public is getting the worst of what we expected from the biomass incinerator project,” Brewer said of the mill’s abandoned expansion of its biomass facility.

“These are increases in fine particulate, diesel and heavy-metal pollution, as well as increases in truck traffic without improvements in their pollution controls,” she added.

“The kind of innovation and expenditures that we’d love to see from the mill is to speed up their compliance with the new air regulations,” she said.

“They don’t have to wait to comply, as they typically do, until the last minute and to the least degree possible.”

Earlier this month, mill officials reached an agreement with Jefferson County for the renewal of their landfill permit and its classification as inert, something the county had opposed.

After mediation, Jefferson County Public Health, Ecology and Port Townsend Paper Corp. agreed to install two new groundwater monitoring wells, submit an updated closure plan and closure and post-closure cost estimates, and provide financial assurance for closure and post-closure maintenance and monitoring of the landfill.

Ogle said air quality issues will be addressed when the mill’s air operating permit expires in May, with public hearings taking place before the permit is extended.

For the permit decision and all other Ecology documents relating to Port Townsend Paper Corp., visit http://tinyurl.com/PDN-refiners.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 23. 2014 7:12PM
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