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Originally published December 24, 2012 at 7:00 PM | Page modified December 24, 2012 at 7:04 PM

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Clean-air legal fight halts Port Townsend biomass project

An appeal now headed for the state Supreme Court will delay a biomass cogeneration plant at Port Townsend Paper Corp. until at least 2014 or 2015, the company says.

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PORT TOWNSEND — Work on a $55 million biomass expansion project in Port Townsend has been delayed because of court appeals.

Port Townsend Paper Corp. said work on its biomass cogeneration plant has been delayed until 2014 or 2015. It was initially projected to be operating in April, the Peninsula Daily News reported.

The project would expand the pulp and paper mill's ability to burn wood waste to generate up to 25 megawatts of electricity for sale. Steam from a boiler and furnace would drive a new steam turbine generator, and also support the pulp and paper mill's operations.

Company officials say the project would provide an important source of alternative energy. Opponents say the plant would increase pollution, especially of fine particles that lodge in the lungs.

Five environmental groups — PT Airwatchers, Biomass Burn, the Olympic Environmental Council, the Olympic Forest Coalition and the World Temperate Rainforest Network — sued to challenge a clean-air permit issued for the facility by the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency.

In June, Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon rejected their appeal. The groups took their case to the state appeals court, which ruled Dec. 10 that it had merit and cleared the way for a hearing by the state Supreme Court, the Daily News reported.

"This is huge," said Gretchen Brewer, a spokeswoman for PT Airwatchers. "The place where they have sited the project is environmentally unsound, something that needs to be taken into consideration for any new project."

Company officials expect a favorable decision by the higher court.

"The state Court of Appeals has now referred the case to the state Supreme Court, and if the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, this will bring us a step closer to resolution," the company said in its statement.

Port Townsend Paper has also applied for and received an 18-month extension of its construction permit from the Department of Ecology, said Kevin Scott, the company's environmental officer.

"Once work restarts, we would expect up to an additional 18 months to complete the project," he told the Daily News.

Nippon Paper Industries USA, in Port Angeles, also is expanding its biomass cogeneration facility to generate 20 megawatts. That $71 million project is slated for completion in 2013.

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