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Guest commentary by Chris Zinda,  Herald and News 12/5/10

  Lakeview biomass: Good project, wrong place
  Aquifer under location contaminated with byproducts of old uranium mill
    Construction of the Iberdrola’s biomass plant in Lakeview has begun. The media is full of proud pronouncements, of jobs and saving the Collins Mill. These are great things — were it not for the location adjacent to a former reclamated uranium mill site and in a town with some of the worst particulate air quality in Oregon.

  Although you did not hear about it in the media, recently Iberdrola was allocated and choose to forgo $1.7 million of American Reinvestment Act stimulus) directed to the Lakeview project. Why? To avoid undergoing additional, more rigorous, environmental analysis and public review for the project under the National Environmental Policy Act.

  Why do this?  

  One reason is tax credits. The business energy tax tax credits are driving Iberdrola’s business decisions and construction of the biomass plant needed to begin prior to January 2011 in order to receive this money.

  Another reason is new, more stringent, air pollution requirements   that will apply to biomass plants like that being constructed in Lakeview and that go into effect in January. Commencing now, they are grandfathered into the old rules.

  A dirty little secret

  All the hurrying for corporate profits is covering up a dirty little secret: The groundwatershallow water aquifer under Iberdrola’s site is contaminated with the byproducts of the old uranium mill.

  Under direction from the Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon statute, town planning maps identify a groundwater overlay of suspected contaminated groundwater and codes prohibit the development of potable wells within that area. There are no town codes or prohibitions to excavate. Since   ingestion of contaminated water is already a concern, is exposure?

  As foundation excavation for the 200-foot smoke stack, 85-foot cooling towers, and numerous 55-foot -plus structures is undertaken, it is quite possible that workers will be exposed to radioactive groundwater.

  Tracking down a regulatory agency, the Oregon Department of Public Health is responsible for not only public health and safety, but is contracted out by OSHA to be responsible for protecting the health and safety of workers when radiological agents are involved.

  While expressing concern, they have shown reluctance in exercising authority to enter the site for testing — even with the existence of groundwater   monitoring wells in the area put in place for the purpose of monitoring the radioactive plume of groundwater. They are making a decision on how to proceed shortly.

  I would hope that politicians and regulatory agencies are not being co-opted as the project moves forward.

  Iberdrola is the largest renewable energy company in the world and brings with it all the political clout national, state and local politicians can trickle down. Business tax credits and avoidance of more stringent clean air act environmental rules should not trump the health and safety of workers and the public alike.

  While the biomass project is a good one — its location may not be.  

  Jobs are very important in Lakeview; however, as Lakeview already knows, jobs (like those associated with the uranium mill in the past) can come with a high cost. One can say that the biomass plant project exists only because of past forest mismanagement that were the jobs of the past.

  The trick now is to not repeat history.  

Chris lives in Lakeview. He worked for the National Park Service and specialized in public administration with emphasis on the environmental administrative law, primarily the National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA. He has been researching the Lakeview biomass plant through state, federal and local agencies.
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