Appeals delay Port Townsend biomass project

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — A series of appeals of court actions against Port Townsend Paper Corp. has delayed work on the firm’s biomass cogeneration expansion until 2014 or 2015, the company said.

Original projections had the expansion operating by April.

The mill’s statement follows a Dec. 10 state Court of Appeals ruling that sends a suit filed by five environmental groups to the state Supreme Court.

The suit urges the requirement of an environmental impact statement prior to construction of the expanded facility that burns wood waste to create electricity.

The appeal process has prompted the company to apply for and receive an 18-month extension of its construction permit, said Kevin Scott, the company’s environmental officer.

“This will allow additional time before construction must be restarted to allow for the time lost in appeals [and] could mean a delay in the project startup until 2014 or 2015,” the company’s statement said.

Gretchen Brewer, a spokesperson for PT Airwatchers, expects the Supreme Court to hear the case sometime in the spring.

PT Airwatchers filed the suit along with No Biomass Burn, the Olympic Environmental Council, the Olympic Forest Coalition and the World Temperate Rainforest Network.

Port Townsend Paper officials expect a favorable decision by the higher court.

“The state Court of Appeals has now referred the case to the state Supreme Court, and if the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, this will bring us a step closer to resolution,” the company said in its statement.

Port Townsend Paper is expanding its biomass cogeneration plant to generate 24 megawatts in the $55 million project.

Nippon Paper Industries USA in Port Angeles also is expanding its biomass cogeneration facility to generate 20 megawatts in a $71 million project that’s also slated for completion in 2013.

Both have been opposed by environmental groups who say that the facilities will increase pollution, especially of ultrafine particles that can lodge in lungs.

The construction of the Port Townsend facility is now idle after the completion of its first phase, the installation of a truck tipper that unloads hog fuel trucks, that took place between December 2010 and June 2011.

The first phase was done under a permit that allowed up to 18 months of inactivity once work had started, Scott said.

“The appeals delayed the project,” Scott said.

“We have not moved to the next phase of work and the 18 month ‘inactivity window’ would have expired later this month, rendering the permit invalid.”

Since Ecology agreed that the appeals were a justifiable cause of delay, they issued the 18-month extension, which extends the allowable “inactivity window” up to May 2013, Scott said.

“Once work restarts, we would expect up to an additional 18 months to complete the project,” he said.

In June 2012, Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon rejected an appeal of the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency’s permit for the plant, granting a motion for summary judgment that stopped the appeal.

The environmental groups took the case to the Court of Appeals Division II, which ruled Dec. 10 that the appeal had merit and cleared the way for a hearing by the Supreme Court.

“This is huge,” Brewer said of the appeals court decision.

“The place where they have sited the project is environmentally unsound, something that needs to be taken into consideration for any new project,” she said.

The biomass plant when constructed will provide an important source of alternative energy, mill officials said.

“We will continue to evaluate the co-gen project and other measures we can take to reduce our dependence on oil and ways to continue our progress with reducing our greenhouse gas emissions,” the company said.

“The co-gen project would provide 25 megawatts of alternative green energy to the grid, which is the equivalent of more than half of Jefferson County’s electricity consumption [and] is enough to power 46,000 electric cars each year.”

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Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 23. 2012 6:27PM
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