Hearing takes comments on Nippon cooling tower permit

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — A hearing this week on Nippon Paper Industries USA’s cooling tower permit application for the company’s biomass-burning cogeneration plant prompted a cascade of criticism about the project and calls for the agency to re-examine its prior approval of the plant’s boiler, which will incinerate wood waste to create electricity.

The Olympic Region Clean Air Agency board, whose staff has recommended approval of the 30-foot tower, held the hearing Monday in Port Angeles.

ORCAA hearing officer Fran McNair, also the agency’s executive director, said afterward that she would take “no longer than two months” to decide on the permit.

McNair said she did not know if the agency has ever rejected a staff recommendation for a project.

“A decision has not been made,” she told the audience of about 100 people who crowded into the Clallam County Courthouse meeting room.

The permit is the last one needed for the expansion of the cogeneration project, which is expected to be completed by Sept. 1.

The $71 million project on Ediz Hook will generate 20 megawatts of electricity.

It has been opposed by environmental groups concerned about health effects of unregulated nanoparticle emissions created when biomass burns.

A similar $55 million biomass cogeneration project recently was delayed by Port Townsend Paper Corp. until 2014 or 2015 because of legal challenges.

Of the 23 people who commented about the Nippon project Monday night, only two supported the permit for the 5,500-gallon-per-minute dual-cell tower.

The tower will hold Elwha River water that the National Park Service is treating with sodium hypochlorite, the active ingredient in bleach, while two dams on the river are being torn down.

“We felt that should be addressed in the final determination,” ORCAA senior engineer Mark Goodin said in the presentation that preceded the public comments.

“We looked at information surrounding the addition of chemicals by [the National Park Service].”

The Park Service is adding hypochlorite to oxidize compounds in sediment being released by dam removal in the $325 million Elwha River restoration project, in which Elwha Dam has been removed and Glines Canyon Dam is expected to be completely down later this year.

Levels of iron and manganese in sediment “can darken paper if not controlled,” Nippon told ORCAA in application documents related to the project.

The company manufactures telephone-book paper and newsprint at its Ediz Hook plant, where the cogeneration plant is being built.

The tower will use up to 2 million gallons a day of river water and emit chlorine, manganese and chloroform that are under allowable limits, Goodin said.

The tower would, at most, add up to a half-ton of particulate matter to the air.

The plant still will emit a lesser volume of particulates than the existing plant, Goodin said.

Nippon already is considered a major source of pollution and operates under an air operating permit that soon will be reviewed, Goodin said.

The comment period for the cooling tower permit ended at midnight Monday.

Goodin said in his presentation that he had not seen any comments up to that point that would prevent him from continuing to recommend approval.

During 90 minutes of subsequent comments at the hearing, opponents talked about potential health impacts of unregulated nanoparticle — tiny particulate — pollution generated by the biomass boiler.

Company officials have said the project meets all local, state and federal laws, and it has withstood every legal challenge.

Michael Bunnell of Sequim, speaking on behalf of nine environmental groups — including PT AirWatchers, Protect the Peninsula’s Future and the North Olympic Group Sierra Club — urged ORCAA to reject the permit and said the city should “enjoin any further construction of Nippon’s Port Angeles cogeneration plant.”

Bunnell said Nippon should be required to submit a new application to ORCAA that includes “correct calculation of combined emissions from the entire facility.”

McNair said the boiler part of the project already has been approved and could not be part of a combined boiler-cooling tower permit.

Harold Vadset of Sequim — one of several speakers from the city east of Port Angeles — said Nippon and ORCAA “are out on a legal limb” regarding the project.

Sequim speakers also said the city is downwind from Port Angeles.

“We intend to hold Nippon and their enablers legally accountable for every premature death,” Vadset said.

“Everyone involved in the permit will share in the liability.”

Bob Sextro of Sequim, co-chair of the North Olympic Group Sierra Club with Monica Fletcher of Port Townsend, said “the whole notion that river water wasn’t being treated or by the time it got to the plant was innocuous was silly.”

He said river water should be tested post-dam removal.

“We, the public, deserve evaluation of the total system, not part of the system,” he said.

“That’s in the best interest of the community.”

But Karl Spees of Port Angeles and Joe Hudon of Sequim spoke in favor of the project.

“This project has been thought out very thoroughly, and I don’t like to see us being regulated right off the map,” Hudon said.

Spees cited the “shrill” voices of “radical environmentalists” that he said have made ORCAA’s work more difficult.

“I applaud ORCAA and its team for not taking the path of least resistance,” Spees said.

“The silent majority supports your decision.”

No one from Nippon spoke on behalf of the project.

Mill Manager Harold Norlund said Tuesday that four people representing the company were present at the hearing, including company Environmental Manager Paul Perlwitz.

“Paul did not think there was any new information presented,” Norlund said, adding that the company is “looking forward” to ORCAA issuing a cooling tower permit.

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 15. 2013 5:57PM
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