PULLMAN, Wash. (Murrow News 8) – The Port of Whitman County is working on a new strategy to move forward with a vision for an Agriculture Advancement Campus on the south side of Pullman.
“We’ve received a lot of public feedback since we first put an offer on this property in January,” said Kara Riebold, the Port’s Executive Director.
The Port officially filed their rezoning request Thursday, asking the city to rezone 84 acres of land to Industrial Research Park (IRP) commercial zoning. The Port also submitted a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) checklist, allowing the city to evaluate any potential environmental risks.
“It values the city’s power in selecting what they’d like to have in the area,” Riebold told Murrow News 8 on Tuesday, “and acknowledges the input that we’ve received so far.”
That campus, and specifically the biodiesel plant proposed to be built on it, has been the subject of public opposition, largely due to its location next to family homes on Sunnyside Hill. The most recent dissent came from Edmund Schweitzer, President & Chief Technology Officer of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories.
“It has been pursued quietly and quickly,” Schweitzer said in a letter to the Port, “denying folks enough opportunity to understand and comment.”
The plant, proposed by Ag Tech OS and supported by the 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 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.
The public feedback, which has included citizen-led meetings and public protests, is also the subject of a Change.org petition, now with more than 6,800 signatures, opposing the port’s initial plan to rezone much of 200 acres and U.S. 195 to heavy industrial.
It’s those two words, “heavy industrial,” that led to a strategic shift for the port.
“We understand that obviously neighbors have visions of what they’re going to look at,” said Riebold. “That’s part of this whole rezoning process, for the city to decide what they are going to do with that land.”
The change in wording, from heavy industrial to IRP, would add step for Ag Tech OS to be able to build their biodiesel facility, requiring a conditional use permit.
Riebold said it meets the vision for the Port, while addressing what they felt were the public’s concerns over the plan.
“It value’s the city’s power in selecting what they’d like to have in the area, and acknowledges the input that we’ve received so far,” she said.
Organizers of the fight against the plan, however, disagree, saying they oppose a rezone altogether, citing available land for housing, potential for noise, smell, traffic, and dropping property values among remaining concerns.
There will be several opportunities for public comment before the decision reaches the city council.
Once the City of Pullman makes a determination on the SEPA checklist, a 14-day comment period will begin.
Following that review, the application would then head to the Planning Commission which would hold a public hearing, and make a recommendation to the city council.
If the city council approves, citizens can still weigh in, as local and state permitting would follow.