County approves Roseburg cogeneration plant

Dennis Taylor

The Siskiyou County Planning Commission on Tuesday passed a resolution approving the Roseburg biomass cogeneration plant located just outside the Weed city limits.

The approval came after the three commissioners in attendance listened to over six hours of pro and con statements, comments and concerns from the public during a meeting in Yreka.

The use permit is conditional because somewhere in the language that will appear in the final form of the permit Roseburg will only be allowed to burn unadulterated wood,  which means the wood has not been treated or had resins or paint applied to it.

The use of unadulterated wood was one of the many issues the three commissioners, Jeff Fowle, Tony Melo and Chris Lazaris, heard during the meeting (commissioners Blain Hart and Mike McMahon were absent). Other concerns included water quality, noise, pollution and health problems.

Steve Henson, operations manager for Roseburg, told the commissioners that ... “this is a good project. It makes green energy, reduces our dependence on non-renewable energy, and is an efficient method to produce power.”

In all 26 people spoke to the commissioners, most of whom were either for the project or neutral on it. Henson also said that he has received letters and e-mails from “hundreds of people in support” of the project.

Tonya Dowse, executive director of the Siskiyou County Economic Council, told the commissioners that, in her opinion, the project was the type of business the county needs and wants. She called Roseburg a … “solid corporate citizen.”

The project did have detractors who raised concerns. Bob Hall of Weed expressed concern about the acid rain that might be created by the plant and the long-term health problems of people in the area.

“Ten to 15 years from now we will have to live with the decision that might be made today,” Hall said. “The EIR (environmental impact report) is flawed there is no baseline for health.”

Dr. Grace Roberts a local veterinarian and microbiologist, was concerned that the water used in the plant to generate steam might contain the bacteria that causes Legionnaire’s Disease. “In the US between 8,000 to 18,000 people a year get it (Legionnaire’s disease) from cooling towers,” she said.

Longtime Weed resident Sid Smith voiced his concern about both health and property values. “Thousands of pounds of particles that are in the air everyday has some kind of effect,” he said.

Dale LaForest said he felt the project has benefits but said the noise levels could be excessive. “The noise element in the plan is 30 years old and out of date and there are no studies on generator noise,” he said.

Weed resident Linda Webb told the commissioners that using treated wood is not a good idea. “I support the plant but worry about burning toxic wood with resins in it,” she said. “I think you (Roseburg) should put that you will not use treated wood with resins in writing.”

In favor of moving forward with the plant was William Preston, who spoke for Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa. “It is of state concern as far as green sources of renewable energy that we move on this because other cities want this for their community.”

Dale Nova, a fire safe council member, told the commissioners that there is 70 years of fuel loading and we have been dodging a bullet. “We have too much bio-mass and it burns with the fires. We can harvest it and we need to manage our forests. We’ve had 14 firefighter deaths this year and you can’t put a price on that,” he said.

Mike Hupp a retired US Forest Service manager concurred with Nova’s assessment of the potential fire danger. “We have had a dramatic increase in fires because of undergrowth. Over the years we’ve gone from low to high intensity fires because of the accumulation of growth. The forests need to be thinned and Roseburg can do it in an economic manner,” he said.