Two years after the appeal was filed, the Third District Court of Appeal has upheld Siskiyou County's decision to allow Roseburg Forest Products to operate a biomass plant in Weed.

Two years after the appeal was filed, the Third District Court of Appeal has upheld Siskiyou County's decision to allow Roseburg Forest Products to operate a biomass plant in Weed.

County supervisor Michael Kobseff, who represents Weed and District 3, said he's satisfied with the decision.

"We are happy we could support Roseburg in bringing this project to its promise of combining jobs with forest health, fire safety and clean electricity," Kobseff said. "This decision adds momentum to our push to reform national forest management and increase the use and value of biomass."

"It's been a long, hard slog for what should have been a very simple permit," said Arne Hultgren, California Resource Manager for Roseburg. "We're very gratified the court looked at the entire record very closely to make this unanimous decision... We're pleased we are now able to go forward with a completely clean pathway. Hopefully there will be no more issues and we can go about our business."

Karen Rogers of the Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center, who filed the legal appeal along with Weed Concerned Citizens, said she is "very surprised and disappointed at the appeal court's decision," and that the groups are "evaluating their options at this time."

"We feel that the decision was a short-sighted review of the facts of the case," Rogers added, though Hultgren said he was "blown away" by how closely the court reviewed evidence, including transcripts, testimony and depositions.

Initially approved by the Siskiyou County Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors in November 2008, the co-generation biomass plant burns bark and trimmings to boil water and make steam for Roseburg's manufacturing process. Excess steam is used to create electricity. The plant can also accept other biomass fuels that result from forest management and thinning.

Soon after the project's approval, the Ecology Center and Weed Concerned Citizens filed a lawsuit, citing an inadequate environmental impact report and no analysis of project alternatives. The Ecology Center contends the EIR did not fully disclose and mitigate air quality, noise and water impacts of the project.

The lawsuit was rejected by the Siskiyou County Superior Court in 2010 and the appeal was filed with the Third District Court of Appeals soon after.

The appeal was denied by the Third District Court of Appeal in a decision handed down Sept. 26.

Grace Bennett, chair of the Board of Supervisors, expressed appreciation for the court decision last week.

"With the fire season we have just gone through and the continued high unemployment in our county, we are thankful for this result," Bennett said. "So many important things are tied to forest management, and we have to stand up to these hollow lawsuits."

About the project

Hultgren said Roseburg's biomass co-generation facility has been operating in Weed since Dec. 2010. It provides the plant all power necessary to sustain veneer manufacturing operations and sends three to 10 megawatts of electricity back into the grid, depending on how much is used at Roseburg at any given time.

Hultgren said one of the inadvertent advantages of the biomass plant is the stabilization of this southernmost end of Pacific Power's line, which ends near Lakehead.

"It provides a buffer for fluctuations and stabilizes the overall quality of the grid," Hultgren said.

He pointed out the facility provides a place to utilize biomass materials to generate green energy. Hultgren said the plant burns 97 percent cleaner than a burning pile.

During a ceremony marking Roseburg's 75th anniversary in August of last year, president and CEO Allyn Ford said he's particularly proud of the biomass plant.

Ford explained that wood waste is converted to energy, and the excess steam produced is used to process the plant's veneer.

"The process goes round and round... it's very efficient. It makes a lot of sense," Ford said, adding that the plant provides a way to ensure healthy forests through proper management while creating cost efficient, renewable energy.

Plaintiff's response

Rogers said last week that the Ecology Center's aim isn't to stop the biomass plant, but "to make it better and safer for the citizens of south county and to protect our important and valuable air and watersheds."

"Our purpose has been to protect south county from unnecessary pollutants and health risks; especially for those that live within a few hundred feet of the power plant, and the school a quarter mile away, who will be exposed 24/7 to air pollutants and noise," said Rogers.

"Although well-designed biomass power, located away from residential neighborhoods, has its place in providing a portion of our nation's energy needs, it is not green nor carbon neutral," Rogers said. "We feel that the decision was a short-sighted review of the facts of the case. California has seen vast improvement through environmental laws such as California Environmental Quality Act and the Clean Air and Clean Air Acts; we're concerned that the court's decision reflects an unprecedented weakening of these standards which are critical to protect our health and welfare."

Rogers added, "The court ruling is at odds with every other California appeal court decision to date on the point of 'alternatives analysis.' An environmental review requires that several project alternatives be included for evaluation; in this case, there were zero alternatives presented or evaluated. Never before has an appellate court allowed an agency to approve an EIR with no meaningful analysis of project alternatives."

Despite the court's decision, Rogers said the Bioregional Ecology Center and the Weed Concerned Citizens "consider our overall campaign a partial success."

"Our efforts resulted in an improved facility and have reduced hundreds of tons new air pollutants," Rogers said. "Initially, the county and Roseburg argued that the biomass project was exempt from any environmental review. That was not true. Through the grassroots actions of local citizens staying involved, the county finally acknowledged its obligation to prepare an environmental impact report. The Ecology Center and Weed Concerned Citizens made sure this happened – otherwise the negative environmental impacts from this facility would be far worse and never disclosed to the public.

"We recognize the value of Roseburg's economic contribution to the community over many years. Yet, with this new project of a wood burning power plant, we expected and hoped that it would be done with best available technology, for that is what South County citizens deserve."