Local View: Downtown no place for biomass plant

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During the past 10 years, city leaders, businesses and residents have worked hard — and succeeded — in making downtown Vancouver a thriving, livable and welcoming neighborhood. We now have a city center that boasts exceptional housing, commercial and office space, shopping, cultural venues, parks and recreational opportunities. And there are exciting plans in the works for future development — most notably the Columbia Waterfront Project — that will make the downtown core even more inviting to residents and visitors.

However, these efforts could all be erased if Clark County’s proposed biomass electrical generation plant is allowed to be built in the downtown core. It’s not that I oppose the building of new biomass plants in general. It’s the location of this particular facility that is troublesome on several levels, all impacting downtown livability.

My first and foremost concern is the fact that this heavy-industrial plant will be located in the heart of the city’s newly revitalized urban center. Not to mention that it will be located just blocks away from residential neighborhoods, Esther Short Park, and the waterfront. And, as The Columbian rightly asked in its April 13, 2011, editorial, “What would a large smokestack do to the downtown skyline?”

However, there are other issues beyond what some would term “aesthetics” that will severely impact the livability in the downtown area: increased truck traffic and the negative effect on air quality.

More trucks

Early estimates project that there will be an additional five to eight trucks per day delivering wood fuel from the west along 11th Street. This would directly impact traffic on Mill Plain, Kauffman, Jefferson and possibly Lincoln.

There also are the air-quality concerns that have not been satisfactorily addressed. The proposed plant will replace a network of natural gas boilers in five county buildings. The current burning of natural gas produces carbon dioxide and water. On the other hand, the burning of biomass (tree branches, bark and tree tops) produces carbon dioxide, water, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, sulfurous compounds and various other substances. Even with the best pollution-control technology and equipment in place, it is hard to believe that there will not be an impact on air quality in the downtown core.

Water vapor also will be discharged from the plant. While, for the most part, this vapor is not harmful, there could be the perception that these “clouds,” which will originate from a heavy-industrial plant, are in fact pollutants. Again, this is not consistent with the efforts that have been made to improve the image and livability of downtown.

I urge the Clark County commissioners to consider another location, outside the downtown core, for the proposed biomass plant. And I strongly encourage the Vancouver City Council to stand by its initial ruling that does not allow, under city zoning codes, a biomass facility to be sited on this piece of property.

Additionally, business leaders, residents and anyone concerned about the future of our downtown should attend the public hearing on this important issue at 6 p.m. Sept. 28 in the council chambers at the new Vancouver City Hall, 415 W. Sixth St. (discussion of the biomass issue will follow one other item on the Planning Review docket.)