Plans for biomass power plant in Gypsum got a green light on Tuesday.
Gypsum Town Council members approved the final reading of annexation, zoning and agreements for the plant, 6-1, with Tom Edwards dissenting.
"The next step is to get out the shovel - we plan to break ground by mid-summer," said Dean Rostrom of Eagle Valley Clean Energy LLC, the entity behind the plans. The plant is slated to be operational near the end of 2013.
The plant will be built on 16 acres directly east of the American Gypsum plant north of U.S. Highway 6. The acreage is part of a 93-acre parcel EVCE is buying from LaFarge North America and which Gypsum annexed on Tuesday.
The property was previously under county control and zoned industrial. Now that it is part of Gypsum, 16 acres will change to light industrial zoning, with the rest classified as "developing resource" and subject to the town's control.
That was a big reason why the council members voted in favor of annexing the land and subsequent agreements. They all agreed it was a great project in many ways, especially in terms of jobs, renewable energy and resulting fire mitigation. Where some council members had a problem with the project was its location along the Eagle River.
Edwards cited the town's Eagle River Area Plan in his vote against the plant. The Eagle River Area Plan was created by the town in 2008 to guide development along the river corridor east of American Gypsum. However, Eagle County never signed the agreement and the plan's feasibility is debatable due to access complications.
"It's never a hundred percent one way," said Gypsum Town Council member Tim McMichael. "We've done that with everything that goes on here. It has always been compromise and making it work for the town. We can't control that property unless it's annexed to the town."
Mayor Carver agreed with McMichael's sentiments.
"Nothing has come back to haunt us," he said. "It's taken a little bit on a couple of projects but it's always been for the betterment of the town and the betterment of the community."
Carver also pointed out how well EVCE has worked with the town.
"I think (EVCE) has met everything that has been asked of them in all aspects. They have bent over backwards," he said.
EVCE is also negotiating a possible land deal and public-private partnership to preserve more than 60 acres of its property's riparian habitat and keep it open to the public.
One of the largest audiences to ever gather for a recent Gypsum Town Council meeting was mostly in favor of the biomass plans.
"I'm excited to see this project and possibly be involved in it," said Buck Sanchez, deputy forest supervisor for the White River National Forest. Sanchez said the forest would benefit from the plant, which would burn "woody fuel" collected from the forest across five ranger districts. (See related story at this website.)
Sanchez said that in addition to forest health, the plant would help with fire mitigation at the fringe of town - something that is already being done but the woody material has had no use until now.
Stewart Hobbs grew up in Gypsum and has been in a family business there for 40 years. He told the council that the project is "certainly a step in the right direction," emphasizing the importance of the job aspect.
One speaker said she grew up northern Wisconsin and lived near a biomass plant on Lake Superior.
"Pollution has not been any problem," she said. "We had smelt and walleye fish right next to the plant. I don't recall any kids in the area having problems particularly. I feel like this would be a really great project for Gypsum for creating jobs."
Other residents had concerns about things such as the temperature of the plant's water discharge, which will go into the river if a state permit is secured, and how much water would be returned to the river. EVCE representatives assured them a state permit would dictate the temperature of the discharge, ensuring it would be environmentally safe.
About 60 percent of the water would be returned to the river, said Ramsey Kropf, Gypsum's water attorney. She said the water agreements were worked in such a way as to keep the river "whole" by utilizing a variety of water rights that draw from different sources.
Though the majority of public speakers at the meeting supported the plant, including Gypsum resident and Eagle County Commissioner Sara Fisher, Edwards said he knew of other citizens at the meeting who were opposed to the plant but didn't speak up.
Exacting as they were, the town approvals were merely the first step. What happens now is a long and busy process of actually building and opening Colorado's first commercial grade biomass power plant.