The Palouse’s largest private employer is opposing the controversial plan to develop a biodiesel plant in Pullman.
Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories President and Founder Dr. Ed Schweitzer sent an email to the Port of Whitman County Commissioners dated today. Dr. Schweitzer provided the email to Pullman Radio News. The email states that SEL opposes the project on several grounds arguing that the port is quietly pushing the project while denying enough opportunity for public comment. Dr. Schweitzer believes that taxpayers should not be unwitting sponsors of a private adventure. The email opposes locating a biodiesel plant next to a neighborhood and near property owned by the Pullman School District. Dr. Schweitzer tells the port that SEL supports entrepreneurship and free enterprise and doesn’t oppose private development funded by private investors.
The letter was revealed shortly before an informational session about the proposal where the port commission’s chair touted the government agency’s role in SEL’s beginnings. Commissioner Karl Webber opened the public meeting by reviewing the history of the Pullman Industrial Park. The port used tax dollars to build the park in 1987 and SEL signed the first lease a year later. Since then, SEL has grown into a global company headquartered at the site. The informational meeting was held inside the SEL Event Center and was provided by the company for free.
During the session AgTech OS officials outlined their plans for the biodiesel plant. The proposal calls for the port to buy land South of Wawawai Road inside the City of Pullman. The proposed site for the facility would be near the Whispering Hills neighborhood and would require the city to rezone the property. AgTech OS officials told the crowd of over 200 people that the plant will be clean, safe and sustainable using the latest technology and automation. The plant is being designed so it won’t smell and will produce very little noise. The facility would process local canola into biodiesel.
The proposal has garnered strong opposition from many Pullman residents mostly over concerns about locating the plant near a neighborhood. The crowd wasn’t allowed to ask questions during the meeting but by the end of the session attendees began shouting questions to the AgTech OS panel. One man asked why the plant is proposed for the City of Pullman. You can listen to the man’s comments by clicking on the audio file below.
AgTech OS Chief Technology Officer Dr. Brian Kraft responded by saying it was the port that decided on the location. You can hear Dr. Kraft’s response below.
Earlier in the meeting Commissioner Webber told the crowd that the site was chosen because it’s near U.S. Highway 195, it has access to city water, it’s near the two local research institutions and that it was for sale.
The port’s rezone strategy to the city has changed. According to staff documents to the commissioners for their meeting Thursday morning the agency will no longer be asking for a rezone to Heavy Industrial. After consulting with City of Pullman officials port staff have decided to seek a zone change to Industrial Research Park. The move requires two major city approvals for the proposed biodiesel plant. The first would be the zone change which would ultimately be decided by Pullman City Council. If that’s approved then the port needs the city to grant a Conditional Use Permit to operate a biodiesel plant in the Industrial Research Park. That requires approval from the city’s hearing examiner. Both processes will involve several opportunities for public input to the city.
The documents to the port commissioners for Thursday’s meeting also involves the parcel that’s outside Pullman city limits. Some of the nearly 200 acres that the port intends to buy still sits in unincorporated Whitman County. Staff is recommending that the board ask the city to extend utilities to the land just outside the city limits.
The port commissioners meeting in Colfax starts at 10:00 Thursday morning. There will be a chance for the public to comment during the meeting and that can be done online here https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86590903284#success