Unpopular plant, added costs

Explosives company won’t pay to improve road, residents learn

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: April 2, 2012, 4:51 PM

 
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Woodland residents who were already opposed to a proposed explosives storage plant moving to their neighborhood may have to pay for road improvements associated with the project.

Cowlitz County does not have a Growth Management Act that would require a company like Northwest Energetic Services to pay for improvements to Butte Hill Road, County Commissioner Mike Karnofski informed residents during a meeting last week at Woodland High School.

Northwest Energetics general manager Ed Coulter has indicated that his company does not plan to bankroll improvements, which could cost between $234,000 and $4.3 million. So either the county or local landowners will pay.

Residents of Butte Hill, four miles east of Woodland, have repeatedly raised concerns that a truck carrying ammonium nitrate from the proposed plant could crash on the steep, winding road, contaminating water or sparking a wildfire.

Northwest Energetic Services, based in Seal Rock, Ore., purchased more than 80 acres of land on Butte Hill from Woodland-based logger Craig Chilton and two other landowners last year. It hopes to consolidate two existing plants into one storage facility there. The company is awaiting the green light from Cowlitz County to apply for a building permit for the plant, with plans for a fall opening.

The company has explained it picked the site for its easy access to the freeway, and its distance from railways, highways or densely populated areas.

The go-ahead to submit the application could come in the “next month or so,” Karnofski said Friday,

once county officials finish evaluating environmental studies provided by the explosives company.

Wednesday’s Butte Hill meeting revolved around questions about the road, which truckers would use driving to and from the storage plant. Officials also expect a noticeable increase in logging trucks traveling the road during the next five years.

Karnfoski and Cowlitz County Public Works Director Kent Cash made presentations and answered residents’ questions. Neither Coulter nor Chilton attended. Coulter said Friday he had previous plans, but said his company continues to work within the parameters set by the county.

“It’s pretty frustrating for us, because at this point we don’t see a way to stop it from happening,” Butte Hill resident Linda Gettmann said Thursday. Also frustrating, Gettmann noted, was the county’s lack of zoning restrictions to keep Northwest Energetics from switching its business plan from explosives storage to explosives manufacturing.

The exasperated feelings of Gettmann and the 180 or so other Butte Hill residents are not lost on Karnofski.

“People are frustrated and I understand that,” Karnofski said Friday.

There are two options to pay for road improvements, the commissioner noted.

Either Cowlitz County could pay for the road repairs out of its road improvement fund, or residents could form a Road Improvement District, which would tax them according to how much they benefited from the upgrades. The latter option has been done only once in the past decade in Cowlitz County, Karnofski said.

No decision has been made on what type of repairs would be made, where they would occur on the road or how much they would cost.

Cowlitz officials gave a presentation Wednesday night that explained several options, ranging from chip-sealing a private stretch of road near the hill’s peak for $234,000 to improving curves and laying asphalt on the entire two-plus miles of road for $4.3 million.

Roadwork comes 2nd

The county has allocated $25,000 for a road study, Karnofski said. Any improvements would likely be made in the summer of 2013, he added -- at least half a year after the plant’s intended fall 2012 opening.

Residents, not surprisingly, are not thrilled with the thought of the plant moving forward.

“How can Cowlitz County approve an explosives distribution plant in this environmentally sensitive area?” Butte Hill resident Sondra Stevenson said Thursday.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; http://facebook.com/raylegend; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities; ray.legendre@columbian.com.