Monday, May 9, 2011

3 arrested at Seneca biomass burning facility

Three demonstrators arrested at Seneca plant

Firefighters are called to assist after one protester, Johannes Pedersen, locked his neck to a running car

Published: (Friday, May 6, 2011 07:01AM)Today

Lane County sheriff's deputies arrested three protesters Thursday morning during a demonstration outside the new Seneca Sustainable Energy wood-burning power plant off Highway 99.

One of the suspects — identified as 22-year-old Johannes Pedersen — had wrapped a heavy, U-shaped bike lock around his neck, then locked himself to the underside of a running car occupied by a person who had arrived at the biomass cogeneration plant for a guided tour of the facility, sheriff's Capt. Bill Thompson said.

A crew from Lane Rural Fire/Rescue arrived and used a hydraulic extrication tool to cut the lock, which allowed deputies to take Pedersen into custody. The tool is typically used to help firefighters remove people from mangled vehicles involved in traffic crashes.

Thursday's response to the Seneca plant was "not our every day kind of call," Lane Rural Fire Chief Dale Borland said.

Two other people were arrested for allegedly blocking that same car — giving Pedersen an opportunity to climb underneath it — as it tried to enter the Seneca plant. They are identified as Emmalyn Garrett, 26, and Zachary Waddell, 24.

Pedersen, Garrett and Waddell were booked into the Lane County Jail and charged with second-degree disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor.

After making the arrests, sheriff's deputies helped private security guards staff several entrances to the plant while a group of about 15 demonstrators stood alongside East Enid Road, just off the Seneca property, protesting the company's practices.

Most of the protesters held signs and chanted "Save our forests, save our lungs" in unison when tour groups on the other side of the plant's fence walked to within earshot.

Tour participants included Lane County Commissioner Sid Leiken and Springfield City Councilor Dave Ralston, both of whom appeared amused by the demonstration and snapped photographs of protesters before completing the tour. Seneca invited about 200 people who had supported the biomass plant project to get an up-close look at the facility on Thursday.

The $50 million plant opened in February. It sells the power to the Eugene Water & Electric Board.

The plant boasts an $11 million exhaust system that Lane Regional Air Protection Agency officials say is the cleanest in the state. But clean-air and environmental activists have criticized the operation, saying that burning wood debris releases particulates into the air and should not be considered a renewable or sustainable practice.

Seneca "shouldn't get to have that image" of operating a biomass plant that produces clean energy "because it's just not true," said protester Erin Grady, a Cascadia Forest Defenders member.

Seneca's general manager, Richard Re, defended the plant's opening as "a positive thing" and said company officials "just kind of dismissed" Thursday's protest.

The federal government and a number of states have provided financial subsidies to encourage the construction of biomass plants instead of those that burn fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. However, burning wood waste does release greenhouse gases, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is uncertain about whether to classify it as renewable.

EWEB Commissioner Joann Ernst also demonstrated Thursday outside the Seneca plant, although she stayed far from the group that protested the new biomass plant's operation. Ernst, who in 2009 voted in favor of EWEB's deal to buy power from Seneca, said she went to the plant to openly oppose the Trapper timber sale in the U.S. Forest Service's McKenzie Ranger District. Seneca — which also produces lumber — bought the sale and had planned to begin logging it last summer. But the Forest Service suspended any harvesting after two environmental groups sued to block the sale. The groups said the logging would harm protected wildlife.


Rachel Smolker
Biofuelwatch/Energy Justice Network
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Biofuels are a wide range of fuels which are in some way derived from biomass.

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