PULLMAN, Wash. – The president of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories has joined the vocal public opposition to a proposed biodiesel plant in the city of Pullman.
In a letter to port commissioners Wednesday, SEL President and Chief Technology Officer Edmund O. Schweitzer said he’s against a plan to put a plant on the south side of town, on land that is currently zoned residential.
You can read that letter here.
During an informational meeting about the project hosted by the Pullman Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, Schweitzer’s letter was waiting for attendees at the door.
“It has been pursued quietly and quickly,” said Schweitzer, “denying folks enough opportunity to understand and comment.”
The plant, proposed by Ag Tech OS and supported by the Whitman County Port Commission, aims to use local canola to create fuel. If approved, Ag Tech OS said they would begin the production of biodiesel by the end of 2024.
The port moved forward with a site plan in February, approving the $3.8 million purchase of 200 acres of residential land on Sunnyside Hill. The site would have space for the biodiesel plant, an Agriculture Advancement Campus, as well as commercial space and a walking path serving as a buffer between the homes and the plant.
During previous public hearings, Ag Tech OS spokesman Dr. Richard Parnas responded to public concerns over noise and smell, saying the noise would be “nominal” and said there would be “very little odor.”
The answers haven’t been good enough for a growing group of citizens, mostly from a vocal group in the Whispering Hills subdivision on Pullman’s Sunnyside Hill.
Some residents, like Jim Carr, live among the southernmost homes of the subdivision.
“I wanted this to be our last home, and this kind of thing could drive me away,” said Carr.
Carr is among a group that is organizing to fight the construction of the plant. A change.org petition has more than 3,700 signatures as of Wednesday.
That group met Monday at the Neill Public Library with other concerned citizens, bringing up ways this proposal goes against the city’s comprehensive plan.
Schweitzer’s letter criticized the “purpose” of the plan, saying it would “foster the objectives of a particular startup business,” adding taxpayers shouldn’t be unwitting sponsors of it.
Schweitzer also opposes the re-zone, noting the land is by homes and schools, and near property acquired by the Pullman Public School District.
“Of course we support entrepreneurship and free enterprise, and do not oppose development by private investors,” Schweitzer concluded, “and at locations suitable to the nature of the proposed activities.”
The final purchase of the land – and survival of the project in that location – is contingent upon a vote by the Pullman City Council on a re-zone application.