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City council awaits response on air monitor
by MATTHEW NASH
Sequim city councilors remain adamant about finding a funding source for an air quality monitor in the city.
They agreed Monday, July 9, to draft a second letter for a monitor to the Olympic Regional Clean Air Agency (ORCAA) and ORCAA’s local board members in response to Nippon Paper Industries’ incoming biomass-fueled cogeneration facility in Port Angeles.
City Manager Steve Burkett, Mayor Pro-tem Ted Miller and Councilor Laura Dubois traveled June 26 to meet with ORCAA and follow up on the councilors’ first letter requesting a monitor.
Miller said it seemed unlikely ORCAA would fund a monitor due to a tight budget and protocol doesn’t allow for more than one monitor per county. Clallam County has two.
So far, ORCAA has neither denied nor accepted the city’s request for a monitor.
Miller said ORCAA staff indicated that the particulates from the plant would only travel three miles and indicated Sequim’s bigger issue is to ban wood-burning stoves in the city limits, especially homes relying solely on them for heat.
Fran McNair, ORCAA executive director, told the Gazette her most recent data was done by the Department of Ecology at the former Rayonier site in 2008 for air quality and it showed the particulates traveled 3 miles.
She said the particulates may be different, but it would still hold true with the new plant.
“They are replacing a 1950s boiler with a state-of-the-art boiler. The technology monitoring emissions is far superior and from that standpoint it’s a lot better,” she said. “Nippon is not a problem for Sequim.”
She said air quality is an issue for everyone and that the city should look into wood-burning ordinances around the city and prohibiting wood stoves in new construction.
Miller said he was told Olympia has a higher need for a monitor, too.
Robert Sextro, a resident within Sequim School District boundaries, said he went to an earlier ORCAA meeting and learned the agency added $50,000 for a monitor to its 2013 budget reserves.
McNair said that the board moved $65,000 into reserves for equipment and plans to add to it every year.
“We have six counties in our area and have requests (for monitors) from Clallam and Jefferson counties,” she said.
She said there’s no timeline for a response to the city, and if a decision is made, a recommendation must be made by her for the ORCAA board to approve.
McNair said she plans to hire a new senior monitoring specialist in August or September who will first analyze all of their monitors.
Mayor Ken Hays said Sequim residents are entitled to at least know if there’s a problem and ORCAA recognizes that but doesn’t want to pay for it.
“I take it as fighting words,” he said about ORCAA potentially opting for a monitor in Olympia.
City Attorney Craig Ritchie said the city’s options are to buy its own monitor, ask Nippon to pay for a monitor or pay for a cheaper test that measures before and after the plant opens over a short time. He said one methodology involves using filter paper to vacuum the air and measure particulates.
Councilor Erik Erichsen said the filter paper method wouldn’t work, but he has no objection to seeking out more knowledge about particulates in other ways.
“I question whether we know what we’re talking about,” he said. “If we take samples, do we know what the answer is going to be anyway?”
Hays agreed and added, “We’re not getting a clear answer, but not hearing an argument from the people who should know.”
Councilor Candace Pratt said if ORCAA were to approve a monitor, it might not be the one the city wants, so she encouraged the council to make sure it measures the right kind of particulate.
McNair said ORCAA’s annual budget is about $1.7 million, and that if the city paid for its own monitor, it’d make it easier on the agency.
“We already have ‘asks’ (for air monitors) in Port Townsend and Port Angeles, and there’s going to be more when more people find out about it,” she said.
Councilors vote on a letter at their July 23 meeting before sending the request for a monitor to ORCAA. ORCAA meets at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 8, at 2940 Limited Lane NW, Olympia.