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Biomass meeting draws protests

About 50 show up to DEQ public forum
by ELON GLUCKLICH 12/18/10 Herald and News
     A proposed biomass facility on Highway 66 near Klamath Falls has virtually no support from residents living near the site.

   About 50 Klamath Falls residents — most saying they lived on Lawanda Hills Drive or Jake Road, adjacent to the biomass site — showed up at an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality public forum Thursday at the Oregon State University Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center.

   Nearly two dozen residents spoke during the meeting, all expressing varying forms of outrage over the proposed development, spearheaded by Washington state-based Northwest Energy Systems Co.  

   DEQ officials tried to restrict the meeting to questions about the plant’s air quality requirements. But audience members spoke up on a variety of subjects, from the possibility of locating the plant elsewhere in the county to the integrity of the DEQ officials themselves.

   Mark Fisher, senior air quality permit writer with DEQ, showed the audience a Power-Point presentation demonstrating that tests show the facility would not add significantly to pollution in the area.

   But few attendees seemed to be buying it.

   “Who gave you these numbers?” demanded area resident Peter Colacino at one point, banging his fist on the table.

   Fisher said the DEQ had been running quality tests in the Klamath Falls area, projecting how many pollutants     be released from the facility if it were in operation.

   “Early on in the process, we developed modeling protocols for pollution,” Fisher said. Those protocols included gauging current pollution levels in the area in an effort to determine if a plant would excessively add to those levels.

   “When we did the analysis on certain areas, it showed that none of those areas would have a significant impact” on air quality, Fisher said.

   That statement brought out a mock round of applause, and some audible groans, from the audience.

   “Just look at the area,” said Gary Keefer, who lives on Highway 66 across from the proposed site. “It doesn’t work. We moved down here from Lawanda Hills to get out of the pollution, and now we’re back in it.”

   Air quality problems

   Fisher spoke for more than an hour, outlining the tests DEQ officials had conducted to track the levels of fine particulate matter the biomass plant would emit. The Klamath Falls urban area is out   of compliance with Environmental Protection Agency limits on fine particulate matter because of smoke emitted from wood-burning appliances. Fine particulates can lodge deep in the lungs and cause health problems.

   Fisher said the plant would be limited to emitting no more than 35 tons of particulate matter per year, adding the plant would likely emit less than that.

   But residents were quick to point out Klamath Falls’ nonattainment designation for particulate matter.

   Earlier this year, Klamath Falls received a failing grade for air quality.

   “We already have an air quality problem. And now you’re going to do this? Is that fair for our children?” asked one woman, her voice cracking and on the verge of tears.

   Little hope for a protest

   Following the meeting, residents said they had little hope their concerns were being heard.

   Rod Husain, who lives near the proposed site, said he has read in recent weeks as state   leaders, Governor-elect John Kitzhaber, Rep. Greg Walden and others have voiced support of biomass projects throughout the state.

   “If they are weighing in for something like this,” Husain asked, “what chance do we have to protest it?”
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