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Biogas facility eyed for Boise mill site

Food waste would be processed by bacteria at plant

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF ST. HELENS ORGANICS RECYCLING, LLC - A map included in the St. Helens Organics Recycling, LLC, application to the city of St. Helens for a conditional use permit shows where the biogas production facility would be located, adjacent to the mill operations of Cascades Tissue Group on land owned by Boise Inc.The old Boise Inc. mill site could soon have a new tenant.

The St. Helens Planning Commission will hold a public hearing next Tuesday, Jan. 13, to consider granting a conditional use permit to St. Helens Organics Recycling, LLC, an Idaho-based limited-liability company seeking to establish an organic waste recycling facility on the property.

Cascades Tissue Group currently leases space on the Boise property, where it operates a tissue production plant.

According to Paul Woods, founder of St. Helens Organics Recycling, the Kaster Road facility would complement the Cascades mill operation.

As envisioned, St. Helens Organics Recycling would work by converting food waste to biogas — a mixture largely comprised of methane and carbon dioxide — through the process of anaerobic digestion, in which bacteria are introduced into the organic material in an airless environment. The bacteria break down the waste, producing the gas.

Biogas has a number of applications. It can be burned as fuel, used to generate electricity or processed into natural gas. Woods described it as a renewable energy resource.

“We originally hope to start by selling the gas to Cascades Tissue,” Woods said.

Once the facility is well established, he added, biogas could also be sold to Portland General Electric. Solid and liquid byproducts of the anaerobic digestion process can also be repurposed as fertilizer.

The center would take up 5 acres, leased from Boise, next to the tissue plant.

Jacob Graichen, St. Helens’ city planning administrator, has recommended that the Planning Commission approve the permit for St. Helens Organics Recycling.

According to Graichen, there is only one other business in Oregon that uses anaerobic digestion in a similar way to the St. Helens Organics Recycling proposal, making it a relatively unknown quantity.

However, Graichen said, the JC-Biomethane plant in Junction City has not been the subject of any complaints to the city, county or state, as far as he is aware.

“As the one example in the state, you know, at least there’s no evidence of that one creating problems,” Graichen said.

Woods said his planned operation would be designed in such a way that the odor put off by the waste and bacteria would be contained. The waste would never be stored overnight, he said. Wood chips would be used as a biofilter to prevent the smell from percolating out from the site.

“I can say with complete confidence, no one’s ever going to smell it,” Woods said. “This is completely contained. There should be no odor, unless you’re inside the building — and then, I’m not going to kid you, it stinks.”

According to documents submitted to the city along with the permit application, St. Helens Organics Recycling would employ about 10 people at first, with the maximum potential for 20 employees.

“I don’t think it’s a huge job producer,” said Graichen. “But it will help offset energy costs to the mill.”

The operation would also increase truck traffic to the site by about 50 daily trips, according to a study by Kittelson & Associates, Inc., for the company. The study notes that amounts to less traffic overall than at the peak of Boise’s operations in the 1990s and 2000s.

Graichen said Wednesday, Jan. 7, he had yet to hear from any concerned neighbors or other members of the public about the proposed biogas plant.

Even if the Planning Commission follows Graichen’s recommendation and approves the conditional use permit for St. Helens Organics Recycling next Tuesday, when it will meet at 7 p.m. in St. Helens City Hall, there is still a regulatory process ahead for the company.

Woods, who lives in Boise, Idaho, said the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is requiring permits for air quality and conversion technology.

If all goes well for the company, he said, the facility could break ground late this year and open by the end of 2016.