Sequim votes to request air-monitoring station

SEQUIM — The City Council has decided to ask the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency to locate an air-monitoring station in Sequim.

The Sequim City Council voted 7-0 to do so Monday night after hearing impassioned pleas from 15 area residents who urged them to support a station to measure any possible particulates that drift in from the Port Angeles Nippon Paper Industries USA biomass cogeneration plant upgrade after it is finished in April.

The council amended the resolution to ask the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency — or ORCAA — to budget funding for the system, an action intended to remove the cost burden from the city.

ORCAA has approved the $71 million biomass expansion at Nippon, a 20-megawatt project upgrading and expanding the present biomass facility that burns wood waste to create electricity.

The Port Angeles project, as well as a 24-megawatt biomass expansion under way at the Port Townsend Paper mill, has been fought by a coalition of environmental groups with health concerns about the facilities.

Opponents have questioned the sufficiency of controls on ultra-fine particles created by wood burning for both projects, saying such particulates can lodge in people’s lungs and cause severe damage but are not separately regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Proponents say biomass facilities like the one under construction at the Nippon mill generate less pollution than conventional plants and that nanoparticulates come from a variety of sources, including wood stoves.

Biomass foes have said that since Sequim is downwind from Port Angeles during the most common weather conditions, Sequim residents will be directly affected by any pollution created by the Nippon biomass burner.

“This takes me back some years ago, to Rayonier,” said Darlene Schanfald on Monday.

Schanfald is a Medsker Road resident who, with the Olympic Environmental Council, has long pushed to clean up the site of the pulp mill on Port Angeles Harbor that was closed in 1997.

“We know of those stacks, and we know which way the wind blows: It blows into Sequim,” said Schanfald, who also chairs the Northwest Toxic Communities Coalition.

Schanfald offered to help the city set up more far-reaching air-monitoring systems that include inexpensive ones that residents can set up at home.

Emotions ran high in the audience that on two occasions applauded supporter comments, which led Mayor Ken Hays to warn them he would “clear the room” if they continued.

Council members heard the air-monitoring supporters during the council meeting’s public comment period prior to its business agenda.

Bob Lynette, a Sequim resident and co-chair of the Sierra Club’s North Olympic Group, said he has talked to three Dungeness Valley families who are thinking about moving out of the area because they fear a toxic particulate threat from the cogeneration plant’s emissions.

He urged the council and city manager to consider pushing state and federal air-quality monitoring agencies to establish several air-monitoring stations in and around Sequim.

“It’s important to the real estate community,” Lynette said.

City Manager Steve Burkett said Francea McNair, ORCAA executive director, determined that Sequim qualifies under the air-quality assurance agencies’ criteria for air monitoring.

He said McNair reported that the Dungeness Valley has poor air ventilation related to the Olympic rain shadow weather patterns that also decrease the area’s annual rainfall.

The issue of a Sequim air-monitoring station was raised in late April after the council decided to stay out of the issues surrounding the biomass facility.

Nippon mill manager Harold Norlund addressed the council during an April 24 special work session, and the council then decided by consensus to cancel a town hall forum that had been planned May 14 on the Nippon project.

The facility has met all legal requirements, has the permits in hand and isn’t in Sequim’s area of influence, council members said.

Crystal Tack, a Sequim-area naturopathic physician for 22 years, told the council Monday night that while some complain about the dirty air floating to the North Olympic Peninsula from China’s heavy polluting industries, they do not see that local pollution affects Sequim.

Francisco De La Cruz, an East Sequim Bay resident, urged for the Sequim air monitor, saying, “Most of the wind that comes to this area comes from that area.”

Others, including Bob Sextro, a Kitchen-Dick Road resident, agreed and also called for air monitoring in Sequim.

Barbara Solomon, a Happy Valley Road resident, said she is not normally vocal, but in this case, she was “outraged” because she appreciates the region’s clean air so much.

She asked the council “to protect us.”

Burkett contends that it is not the city’s role to be an air monitor.

“We’re not air-quality experts,” he said.

Councilman Erik Erichsen asked that the word “fund” be added to the resolution that requests “the Olympic Regional Clean Air Agency to locate and operate an air quality monitoring station in Sequim and authorize the mayor to send a letter and the resolution to ORCAA.”

His amendment was unanimously approved by the council.

Burkett said the city previously had an air-monitoring station at the old fire hall that was once next to City Hall on West Cedar Street.

He said the monitoring station was then moved to the new Clallam County Fire District No. 3 fire station on North Fifth Avenue.

“That monitoring station was at some time removed, and there is currently no system in place for monitoring air quality,” he said in a memo to the council.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-681-2390 or at [email protected]

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