Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Thurston County Board of Health Hears Biomass Reports

Thurston County Board of Health Hears Biomass Information

By Janine Gates

In the first of several work sessions, Thurston County Board of Health members, who also serve as the Thurston County Commissioners, today heard biomass related reports from several state agency representatives and the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCAA).

The commissioners, Cathy Wolfe, Sandra Romero, and Karen Valenzuela, adopted an ordinance in late December 2010 that created a year long moratorium on new biomass facilities in Thurston County. The moratorium was passed in response to citizen concerns and to give the commissioners time to research and learn about biomass issues. Biomass facilities are not currently addressed in Thurston County code.

The Thurston County moratorium on new biomass facilities is considered to be the first of its kind in the nation. The commissioners will conduct a public hearing on the county’s moratorium on Monday, February 7, 5:30 p.m., in Room 152.

The Evergreen State College (TESC), located in Thurston County, is proposing to build a biomass gasification facility. The TESC Sustainability Council is still in a feasibility phase but has taken an active role in pursuing, and has received, partial funding for the project.

For more information, see a December 21 article about the moratorium and other articles related to TESC's project at

Peter Moulton, bioenergy coordinator for the Washington State Department of Commerce, provided the board a statewide overview of biomass policy and bioenergy issues.

Representatives of the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCAA) explained air quality permitting process and standards. Craig Partridge, policy director for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) gave an overview of DNR’s forest practices and its biomass initiative.

Sally Toteff, southwest regional director for the Washington State Department of Ecology and Chuck Matthews of Ecology's solid waste division, reviewed industrial storm water and water quality issues that could come into play during the county’s permitting process for a biomass facility.

When county planning director Scott Clark asked Toteff if Ecology has looked at HB 1081 and how it could influence the county’s moratorium, Toteff responded, “Let’s see if it moves…” then admitted that she wasn’t aware of the bill, or its senate companion legislation.

HB 1081, sponsored by Representative Jeff Morris (D-40), ensures that small alternative energy resource facilities are sited in a timely manner in local jurisdictions where there are no existing ordinances to permit these facilities, where applicable ordinances have not been updated in over ten years, or where ordinances have been adopted that impede the timely permitting of these facilities.

The bill had a hearing on January 18 in the House Committee on Technology and Energy & Communications and is scheduled for executive session on February 1. Its companion bill, SB 5228, sponsored by Senator Phil Rockefeller (D-23), is currently in the Senate Environment, Water & Energy Committee, and scheduled for a hearing on February 2.

At the conclusion of today’s Thurston County board of health work session, Jeremy Clark, county associate planner, told the audience observing the meeting that the state agency and ORCAA presentations will be posted on the county website at in about a week.

Future Biomass Meetings

Future county board of health work session meetings are scheduled in Room 280 at the Thurston County Courthouse, 2000 Lakeridge Dr. SW in Olympia. The next regular board of health meeting is Tuesday, February 1, 3:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.

On Wednesday, February 2, 9:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m., The Evergreen State College will have an opportunity to present information on its proposed facility. Several TESC Sustainability Council members and senior staff were in the audience today, observing the board's biomass work session.

On Thursday, February 3, 2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m., a group called Concerned Citizens of Thurston County will have an opportunity to present information to the board. This group is specifically concerned with TESC's biomass gasification facility proposal.

Thurston County's moratorium also reopened its 2010-11 comprehensive plan amendment official docket. A 20 day public comment period is required prior to any additions to an official docket. The official docket public comment period will close on Monday, February 7, 2011 at the close of the commissioner's public hearing.

Written comments may be submitted in lieu of testimony. Submit written testimony to Thurston County Planning, attention: Jeremy Davis, until 4:00 P.M. on February 7th. More information is available in hard copy in the Thurston County Permit Assistance Center or online at

Thurston-Mason County Medical Society Weighs In On Biomass

In a letter dated January 14, to the Thurston County commissioners, Dr. Cole Mason, president of the Thurston - Mason County Medical Society, said that the society strongly supports the Thurston County moratorium on biomass facility development and construction. The letter states that the support represents over 400 physicians in Thurston and Mason counties.

“Proposed biomass incineration plants to produce energy have raised serious concerns about the immediate and long term health effects on the residents of Thurston and Mason Counties. There are already established effects on the public’s health when exposed to particulate matter pollution derived from biomass incineration,” says the letter.

In September 2010, the Washington State Medical Association (WSMA) passed a resolution urging state and local governments to adopt policies that minimize health impacts when considering energy sources.

Other Biomass Legislation

Other biomass-related legislation is being proposed this session. A hearing of the Senate's Natural Resources & Marine Waters committee at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 27, will hear an update of forest biomass issues and forest practices leading to conversion of land for development purposes. SB 5273, DNR's aviation biofuel initiative, is also scheduled to be heard by the committee in Senate Hearing Room 2 of the J.A. Cherberg Building.

Legislative schedules are subject to change. To follow Washington State legislation, go to

For more information:

Concerned Citizens of Thurston County at

State Agency Biomass Related Websites:

Washington State Department of Commerce:

ORCAA: www.orcaa/woody-biomass-emissions-study

Washington Department of Natural Resources: