Biomass ruling favors Schneider Electric

Company says proposal alive despite city's moratorium

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter


Updated: October 13, 2011, 9:14 PM


Hearing examiner backs biomass plant

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Previously: Attorneys argued Sept. 28 over whether a biomass plant could be sited in downtown Vancouver; the Vancouver City Council on Monday passed an emergency moratorium on development to block the plant.

What’s new: A hearing examiner ruled in favor of Schneider Electric, which partnered with Clark County to build the plant.

What’s next: City officials will consider their options.

Schneider Electric on Thursday won a decision from a hearing examiner over a proposed biomass plant in downtown Vancouver, and proponents say that despite the Vancouver City Council’s best effort to kill the proposal, it’s still on.

On Monday, with no warning to the county, the Vancouver City Council passed an emergency six-month moratorium on development in the downtown zone.

David Palmer of Schneider Electric, which signed a contract with Clark County to build a biomass electricity generating plant west of the Clark County Jail, said Thursday that the company has been able “to mitigate the financial impact of the moratorium and the project remains financially viable even with the delay.”

The city’s move was thought to be a fatal blow because Schneider would miss out on an $8 million federal grant that expires at the end of the year.

Palmer said Thursday that additional funding has been identified from the New Market Tax Credit program.

Hearing examiner Sharon Rice, an attorney from Shoreline, ruled that the biomass plant is “consistent with the intent and purpose” of a light industrial overlay district.

Rice heard arguments on the issue Sept. 28.

Now that the hearing examiner ruled in favor of Schneider Electric, Palmer said Schneider’s attorneys, Steve Horenstein and LeAnne Bremer, will argue that the city’s emergency moratorium doesn’t apply on two fronts. First, they will argue the city can’t pass a moratorium that’s clearly directed at stopping a single project.

They will also argue that since a Type 1 application was filed for the project, the project is vested and the moratorium can’t be retroactively applied.

Vancouver Assistant City Attorney Linda Marousek said Thursday that the city will argue the project’s not vested and that there are no such limitations on moratoriums.

“We haven’t met internally to discuss the decision yet, but I’m sure we’ll be considering all of our options,” said Vancouver Planning and Review Manager Chad Eiken.

Rice’s decision could be appealed to Clark County Superior Court.

The city and county have been squared off over the idea of a biomass plant at West 11th and Harney streets almost since it was first proposed.

City leaders — and several downtown neighborhoods — have cited concerns about pollution, odor and traffic. They’ve also said that the city’s vision for downtown is to move away from industrial uses to more commercial and residential development.

The county has maintained that pollution and other factors would be minimal, and that the plant represents a sustainable way to heat and cool five county buildings at no additional cost to taxpayers. Schneider would also likely generate extra electricity that could be sold on the grid.

The biomass plant (fueled by tree tops, limbs and the detritus of producing lumber) would replace 11 fossil fuel boilers that serve the five county buildings downtown.

Rice wrote that the “use would be consistent with the intent and purpose of the applicable zoning district.” She wrote that “the use is expected to generate about 50 trips per day, half truck and half passenger vehicle. Emissions would be regulated and air quality requirements enforced by the Southwest Clean Air Agency.”

Monday’s moratorium represented the latest step in a series of land use battles the two sides have waged.

The city first rejected Schneider’s application for development at the site, saying a biomass plant is not allowed in the location’s zoning — a light industrial overlay in the city center district.

Rice wrote that the proposed biomass plant would have a lower combustion source capacity than the existing Frito-Lay plant and the SEH America silicon wafer manufacturing plant.

“The record contains no evidence that suggests substantially greater impacts in any regard than the existing and permitted uses in the vicinity,” she wrote.

The $28 million plant would have up to a dozen employees.

Stephanie Rice:;;