By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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A coalition of seven environmental groups is appealing a Port Angeles city environmental impact statement that would allow construction of a cogeneration plant at the Ediz Hook paper mill.
On the day when the state Department of Ecology gave its blessing to a $55 million Port Townsend electrical generation project that would burn wood waste known as hog fuel or biomass, Clallam County commissioners on Monday said they will agree to let the city of Port Angeles hire the county's hearing examiner to take testimony on the Port Angeles appeal.
Clallam County Hearing Examiner Chris Melly would hear the appeal at a contract cost of $66.78 per hour to the city, plus county support staff expenses.
The county commissioners are expected to vote on the contract today.
Seven Western Washington environmental groups -- including PT AirWatchers, Olympic Forest Coalition and Olympic Environmental Council from the North Olympic Peninsula -- are appealing the environmental impact statement granted by the city of Port Angeles for Nippon Paper Industries USA's $71 million biomass boiler project.
The city Planning Commission approved the environmental impact statement and a companion shoreline management permit for Nippon on Sept. 22.
The Nippon cogeneration plant would produce 20 megawatts of electricity.
A cogeneration plant approved by the state Department of Ecology for Port Townsend Paper Corp. on Monday would produce 25 megawatts.
"Ecology's job was to thoroughly evaluate the mill's project and the public's feedback to decide if the project complies with current environmental requirements," said Laurie Davies, manager for the Ecology program overseeing the mill's air and water permits.
"We did, and found no reason to deny this project."
Ecology's order allows the mill to move ahead with plans on a $55 million project to install a steam turbine and upgrade its power boiler, after which time the boiler's primary fuel source will be wood waste known as biomass or hog fuel.
As much as 25 megawatts of electricity would be produced.
The order also sets stricter pollution limits for the upgraded boiler than the mill's current limit, according to Ecology.
Chuck Madison, Port Townsend Paper's human resources vice president, declined to comment about Ecology's decision.
But in an e-mail sent to the Jefferson County Department of Community Development, Eveleen Muehlethaler, the company's vice president for environmental affairs, thanked the county for helping the project along.
"We and our employees want to thank you for your support through this process," she wrote.
"We are always amazed at how many folks wrote comments or stood up and testified in support of the mill, [and] you do have our sincere appreciation!"
Muehlethaler called the project a "win-win for the community and our employees" that will include an extensive upgrade to air pollution control equipment, produce renewable electricity, reduce fossil fuel burning by 1.8 million gallons per year and create 30 full-time jobs and the equivalent of an additional 35 jobs during construction.
County Community Development Director Al Scalf said the mill will need to meet building and water quality codes for the project, which is slated to start up in 2012.
The mill applied to Ecology for a permit in May with public comments taken until September, including testimony at a public forum at Fort Worden State Park on Aug. 17.
The comment period was extended until Oct. 5 to accommodate further environmentally based comments.
The project was opposed by PT AirWatchers, a group that "expressed concerns" about the venture and maintained that it will result in air and water pollution.
On Monday, AirWatchers spokesperson Gretchen Brewer said the group had not decided whether it would file an appeal to the Pollution Control Hearings Board within 30 days.
Davies said that Ecology paid attention to the more than 140 comments submitted about the project.
This included extended record-keeping and increased noise abatement.
Brewer characterized the changes as "insubstantial."
Brewer and others opposed to the Port Townsend mill project have said companies and Ecology are not looking at the wider effects of biomass projects on the North Olympic Peninsula.
They are also opposing a biomass cogeneration project under consideration by Nippon Paper Industries USA Inc. in Port Angeles.
Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or email@example.com.