Civic engagement works.
People in South Sound can, and are, making a difference in their community by opposing projects they perceive to be bad for the environment and their quality of life.
We saw that last week when Adage LLC, a Pennsylvania-based company, pulled the plug on a controversial plan to build a wood-burning power plant near Shelton. And before that, we saw the power of citizen activism at the local level when south Thurston County residents banded together to oppose a proposed rail yard logistics center near Millersylvania State Park.
Both projects, huge in scope, were scuttled in large part by opposition from organized, powerful, grassroots efforts against them. And both projects show that residents can make a difference in public policy decisions, especially if they are willing to devote the time, energy and – yes – financial resources, it takes to scuttle a project.
It’s no easy task, but it can be done.
Adage officials downplay the role opponents had in bringing down the $250 million project – which would have turned 600,000 tons of forest wood debris into electrical energy sufficient to power 40,000 homes. What was hailed as a green energy project in February 2010 quickly drew the wrath of a sizable number of Mason County residents who questioned the project’s potential effect on forest health and air quality.
Company officials said a weak market for renewable energy – not project opposition – scuttled the project. “It was 100 percent about the lack of a market for the energy,” Adage spokesman Tom DePonty said. “We were well on our way to securing permits and a fuel supply for the project.”
We give more credit to opponents.
They shined the public spotlight on the project and its potential harm. They staged protests, sponsored educational forums, wrote letters, spoke out and pressed local elected officials to join their cause. It was grassroots organizing and lobbying at its best.
“This is a victory for the citizens of Mason County,” said Concerned Citizens of Mason County spokeswoman Beth McBain. “People looked at the science and did the research. They determined it was not a project we wanted in our community.”
What impressed us was the amount of time and research opponents expended. They were not willing to accept Adage’s information on face value. Opponents contended that the so-called “green” plant would have generated about 550,000 tons of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide a year and nearly 100 tons of particulate matter. They questioned the plant’s impact on people with heart and respiratory problems, especially infants, pregnant women and the elderly.
While Adage officials say the failure to come up with a power purchaser was “100 percent” responsible for the demise of the project, we have to believe that united citizen opposition at every turn certainly played a pivotal role in the end result.
Thousands of South Sound residents were better informed about the down-side to the project because of the efforts of determined opponents.
And we would argue that it was the light of day shined by the Friends of Rocky Prairie that torpedoed the Port of Tacoma’s plan to turn 745 acres near Millersylvania into a railroad logistics transport and industrial center.
Again, opponents invested the time and energy to collect information to use against the port. The friends were joined in opposition by environmental groups and state natural resource agencies who said the parcel was critical prairie habitat.
Today the Friends of Rocky Prairie are fighting to prevent a gravel mine operation on a portion of the property.
While these two scuttled projects were high profile, we see similar success stories at neighborhood levels. The recent victory of Ken Lake residents in opposition to a nearby 300-home subdivision, comes immediately to mind.
What these, and other examples show, is that South Sound residents can unite to successfully defend the quality of life in their neighborhoods — if they are willing to devote the time and energy necessary to oppose a project.