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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

SEL opposes plans for biodiesel plant in Pullman

By Emily Pearce Moscow-Pullman Daily News

The Palouse’s largest private employer submitted a letter in opposition to a proposal to develop a biodiesel plant that would be partially within Pullman’s city limits.

As the Port of Whitman County continues to move forward with plans for the biodiesel plant, more concerns from the community have arisen. The proposed 550,000-square-foot facility would be placed partly within Pullman’s western city limits, near residential areas. Some Pullman residents are apprehensive of the idea and have made their objections known at the port’s meetings.

The port’s commissioners received an email Wednesday from Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories President and founder Ed Schweitzer. The letter stated the company disapproves of the plan as the port is pursuing the project “quietly and quickly” while denying the public the opportunity to understand and comment. The letter also says taxpayers “should not be unwitting sponsors of a private adventure.”

Schweitzer’s letter also states an opposition to rezoning residential land to heavy industrial land, and overall being undesired by the community. SEL urged the port to terminate the pursuit of the proposed Agricultural Advancement Campus, of which the biodiesel plant would be the anchor tenant.

AgTech OS, a local startup company, is the organization wanting to build the biodiesel plant. The proposed site is more than 180 acres south of Old Wawawai Road right outside Pullman city limits. Around 80 acres of the land would be within city limits, and would need to be rezoned to heavy industrial and commercial land. The site is near the Whispering Hills residential complex and the Pullman Public School District.

To build the biodiesel plant in this location, the port will have to consult with city of Pullman officials, as well as have two major city approvals, according to a Pullman Radio News article. The first of those approvals needed is a zone change, which would be decided by the Pullman City Council. If approved, the port would need the city to grant a conditional use permit to operate the plant in the park.

The port hosted an informational meeting Wednesday about the biodiesel plant. Many Whitman County residents attended the meeting to have their questions answered. AgTech OS representatives tabled the session to tend to the community’s concerns.

Chief Technology Officer Brian Kraft told attendees the commercial plant would be clean, safe and sustainable using the latest tech and automation. And it is designed to not smell and produce little noise. The plant will process canola into biodiesel, which has little smell associated with the plant, he said.

The site’s location was chosen because it’s near Washington State Route 195, has access to city water and is near two local research institutions, Kraft said. He added the plot of land was also for sale.

Residents asked about the facility’s water usage. Kraft said the plant would be using about 200,000 gallons of water at any given time, but 95% of the water would be recycled. He added the plant would use about 10,000 gallons of water a day, or equivalent to about 50 households worth of Pullman’s water.

Audience members also questioned traffic increases within the city. Kraft said a maximum of 20 trucks would be at the site during daily operations.

During the port’s regular meeting Thursday, commissioners held a public comment session and many concerned Pullman residents spoke.

Many attendees stated they don’t want a biodiesel campus located in their backyard.

A community member said if they had to choose between a plant using 50 houses worth of water or actual houses, they would prefer houses instead of the facility.

A resident said they understand the advantages of having the plant in the proposed location, because of how close it would be to the state highway and city utilities.

Another community member said the plant is harmful to residents because it will increase property taxes, put a burden on the lifestyle in Pullman and steer growth away from the Palouse.

Another resident said taxpayers shouldn’t be responsible and burdened to subsidize a private adventure company.

Pullman resident Gwen Anderson started a petition in early February opposing rezoning the city, and it currently has 5,000 signatures. Anderson said she created the petition because of the issues other cities have faced when biodiesel plants have been built, along with concerns of noise, smell, air quality, water usage, traffic and public safety.

“This Whitman (County) town is a growing residential area that is attracting people coming all around the U.S. to settle here and enjoy the peace and plenty,” said a Pullman resident at the public hearing. “We have excellent universities, schools and just a wonderful area. And, this plant puts all this at risk.”