Emotions flare; Gypsum barely keeps biomass plant plan alive
Eagle Valley Enterprise
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE, Colorado – Emotions started to flare as Gypsum Town Council narrowly approved the first readings of a resolution and ordinances that prepare the way for a biomass power plant in the community.
The resolution and ordinances essentially annex 94 acres directly east of the American Gypsum Plant, where the biomass plant would be built. The measures passed, 3-2, with Mayor Steve Carver and council member Kyle Hall absent. Mayor Pro Tem Dick Mayne and council member Tom Edwards voted against the approvals.
Prior to voting at Tuesday’s meeting, council members expressed distaste for adding another industrial entity to the town. At least a couple of them agreed the town is gaining an ugly reputation as a place full of gravel pits and such.
“I have a concern with Gypsum being called the place that’s industry,” Mayne said.
However, everyone at the meeting acknowledged that the 94-acre parcel will remain in Eagle County’s jurisdiction unless the town annexes it.
“At least this way, we would have some control over what goes there,” said council member Tim McMichael.
Eagle Valley Clean Energy LLC, the group proposing the biomass plant, and Eagle County Commissioner Jon Stavney acknowledged the truth of the situation.
“I urged (EVCE) not to talk to us but to go to you guys,” Stavney said. “They could just come to us for a special-use permit, which is frankly smack in the middle of Gypsum, and I think the right place for this discussion is Gypsum.”
Stavney said Eagle Valley Clean Energy has support from the county and beyond.
“Myself and Eagle County are a real booster for what (Eagle Valley Clean Energy) is trying to do,” Stavney said, adding that two senators recently expressed support for the idea, as well. “This would really be a forest health/regional benefit.”
He said he hopes the county won’t be put in an awkward situation if Gypsum rejects the annexation agreement with Eagle Valley Clean Energy.
Dean Rostrom, of Eagle Valley Clean Energy, emphasized how hard the company has worked with the town for nearly a year, pointing out recent changes made in the plan to accommodate concerns.
The plant has recently been “consolidated,” reducing its footprint from 45,000 square feet to 33,000 square feet, compared with the 345,000-square-foot gypsum plant. The biomass plant also would be located farther away from the Columbine Market parking lot and U.S. Highway 6 than originally planned. The building pad also would be recessed to reduce the elevation of its profile and ease visual impacts. Rostrom said Eagle Valley Clean Energy would be very willing to continue working with the town on anything “within reason.”
Edwards said he does not think the biomass plant fits with the plan the town made for the Eagle River corridor in 2008.
“The negatives far outweigh the positives,” he said in a passionate speech, his voice on the verge of wavering. “Its only redeeming characteristics are some jobs and a claim to be green. It’s still industrial. An industrial image does not conform to the image the town has been trying to build for the last 17 years.”
The biomass plant has been touted as a boon to forest health because its primary fuel would be forest and agricultural waste and clean urban wood.
“We would be using beetle-kill wood, pine needles and dead branches,” Rostrom said earlier this year. “We would not be harvesting healthy wood or competing with logging.”
The Eagle County Landfill already has a deal with Eagle Valley Clean Energy to send its clean wood waste to the plant.
“This is the only hope we have right now for some kind of use for all this stuff on the forest floor,” Stavney said at Tuesday’s meeting.
The plant would generate 11.5 megawatts per year. Ten megawatts would be sold to Holy Cross Electric, and the remaining energy would power the plant itself.
Most of the ash – 99.5 percent – produced by the wood burning would be filtered, collected and used for crop fertilizer or sent to the landfill.
Truck traffic and noise pollution would be relatively minimal, Rostrom said. About 11 to 14 enclosed semi trucks would deliver chipped wood to the plant each weekday, and chipping would almost always be done off site.
The plant is projected to create about 42 long-term jobs after construction. Rostrom said many of those jobs would likely be filled by Gypsum residents.
Water treatment and debris kicked up by the wind remain top concerns for Gypsum Council members. Rostrom said Eagle Valley Clean Energy has a strong chance of getting approval from the state to discharge its clean wastewater into the Eagle River. The water is used for cooling purposes, and the discharge would be about 20 gallons per minute. Otherwise, the plant’s used water would have to be sent to Gypsum’s wastewater treatment plant, which everyone agreed is not ideal in the long term.
Town Council members nixed one of the potential access points to the property and requested bigger coniferous trees be used in the landscaping. Rostrom said that wouldn’t be a problem.
Eagle Valley Clean Energy hopes to work out a deal where the riparian corridor of its property would be kept as open space. The company has been in talks with the county and keeping the land as it is and accessible to the public remains a desired possibility for all involved.
For now, the challenge will be simply getting the plant approved through the town of Gypsum.
The next annexation agreement for the “sustainable industry industrial park” comes back before council March 13.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Gypsum Town Council unanimously approved steps for annexing and zoning of Dotsero Station at Sweetwater Ranch. The landowner, Mike Young, is hoping to build a convenience station, food and retail stores, among other things, there in a phased development.