Issue of biomass plant will get a public hearing

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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A date has been set for a hearing on Clark County’s controversial idea to build a biomass plant in downtown Vancouver.

The hearing will be 6 p.m. Sept. 28 at Vancouver City Hall, 415 W. Sixth St., in the council chambers.

Planning Review Manager Chad Eiken said there’s one other item on the docket, so the biomass appeal won’t likely start until close to 7 p.m.

The hearing examiner will be Sharon Rice, an attorney from Shoreline.

Eiken said Rice will issue a written opinion within two weeks of the hearing.

Her decision could be appealed to Clark County Superior Court.

The hearing was scheduled after attorneys for Schneider Electric, a company Clark County has partnered with to build a biomass-fueled electricity plant, appealed Eiken’s Aug. 4 ruling that a biomass facility isn’t an allowed use under city zoning codes.

Specifically, attorneys argue that Eiken was wrong when he said:

• The proposed central district heating plan is not a waste-related use.

• That even if it was a waste-related use, it would not be permitted outright in the city’s light-industrial district.

• The proposed use is not similar to other permitted uses in the light-industrial district.

The county and Schneider want to build a plant at West 11th and Harney streets where wood waste, such as tree limbs, would be burned.

The land, already owned by the county, is zoned for light industrial use.

Biomass is an outright permitted use in light-industrial zones, said Schneider Electric’s attorneys, Steve Horenstein and LeAnne Bremer.

The Vancouver City Council has been less than receptive to the county’s plans.

Nonetheless, last month County Commissioners Marc Boldt and Tom Mielke voted to sign a contract with Schneider. Commissioner Steve Stuart said he had too many reservations to support the project.

If the deal falls through due to zoning issues or market forces, the county still must pay Schneider a minimum of $75,000. If the project goes ahead, the company plans to invest up to $1.2 million of its own money to develop the plant.

The longer the county and Schneider work together, the more the county’s liability increases. The county has a maximum liability of $395,000.

It cost Schneider $1,165 to file the appeal.

Currently, Clark County currently operates 11 boilers for its downtown campus.

A new central heating plant would replace fossil-fuel heating with one central facility that uses woody debris as fuel.

The biomass boiler system would provide central heating, cooling and domestic water heating for five county buildings: the Public Service Center, courthouse, jail, 911 center and juvenile courthouse. Schneider would sell excess power, expected to be up to 4 megawatts.

Schneider, a global company with headquarters in France, would build, finance and operate the plant, with no money from taxpayers. It would also lease the land from the county, paying what is expected to be $1.5 million over 20 years.

The county has estimated the plant would save $11 million over 20 years and reduce fossil-fuel emissions from the existing county boilers by about 28,660 tons a year. That’s the equivalent of removing 6,200 cars from roads or taking 3,700 homes off the electricity grid.

Leaders from both the Esther Short and Hough neighborhood groups, however, have raised concerns about emissions and pollution.

Most recently, James Correll, president of the Heritage Place Condominium Association in the Esther Short neighborhood, issued an Aug. 22 statement that read, in part, that an “industrial wood waste incineration and power generation plant, proposed to be located only five blocks from Heritage Place, is completely incompatible with the neighborhood’s vision. Nowhere in the vision is there even a suggestion that such a facility would be a desirable component within the downtown neighborhood.”

Stephanie Rice: http://www.facebook.com/reporterrice; http://www.twitter.com/col_clarkgov; 360-735-4508; stephanie.rice@columbian.com.