Placer County will partner with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the Sequoia Foundation to conduct a health impact assessment (HIA) on the proposed Cabin Creek Biomass Facility Project. The proposed project will generate electricity at a facility near the Eastern Regional Material Recovery Facility at Cabin Creek. The facility would be located on county-owned land off State Route 89 between Squaw Valley and the Town of Truckee.
This is likely the first time in the United States that a health impact assessment has been used for a biomass facility, according to Placer County Health Officer Dr. Richard J. Burton.
“The nature of health impact assessments is that they seek community input,” said Burton, who is also the Director of Placer County Health and Human Services. “The community will let us know the kinds of things they consider important, whether they be transportation issues related to the proposed biomass facility, air quality issues, or traffic congestion.”
The CDPH will conduct a scientific research review for potential community health impacts. Placer County, in partnership with the Community Collaborative of Tahoe Truckee, will conduct a community training session on the HIA process for stakeholders and the public. That will take place Tues., March 13, 2012, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m., at 305 Squaw Valley Rd., Olympic Valley. The event will be in the First Floor Community Room on the west end of the complex. There will be additional public meetings as the County and its partners wend their way through the HIA process.
Placer County’s proposed biomass facility would generate electricity from woody debris gathered from surrounding forest lands as a result of ongoing forest fire fuel load reduction programs. These materials: wood chips, slash, bark, and pine needles, are typically pushed into piles, which are then burned in the open when weather conditions permit. While a biomass facility would likely reduce the pollution caused by open burning, the HIA will identify impacts, both positive and negative, and provide information on the proposed facility. The HIA will ensure that the decisions about a biomass facility in Eastern Placer County factor in health considerations, such as how changes in air quality and truck traffic on local roads could affect things like asthma, injury rates, and access to services important to health.
“With the threat of a catastrophic wildfire looming large over Eastern Placer County, it is critically important that we find ways to reduce the danger,” said Fifth District Supervisor and Board of Supervisors Chairwoman, Jennifer Montgomery. “We know that open burning adds large amounts of pollution to the air and ultimately water bodies like Lake Tahoe. Biomass technology looks promising, but we mean to conduct a thorough review of all aspects and impacts before we proceed. This HIA is an innovative way for us to do a comprehensive job of looking at all issues.”
A draft of the HIA is expected to be available to the public sometime this summer. The HIA does not take the place of the Environmental Impact Report now being compiled for Placer County. Producing the EIR is on a different track than the assessment.
The draft EIR is expected to be released to the public this summer. When it is released, there will be a 45- to 60-day public comment period. When that ends, all comments will be compiled with the responses and included in the final EIR. The EIR will then be reviewed by the Placer County Planning Commission, which will decide if the document is adequate. If there are no appeals, the proposed biomass facility will be considered an approved project. If there is any appeal after the Planning Commission’s decision, the Board of Supervisors will hear the appeal. Their decision will be final in terms of county review.
The total grant is approximately $120,000. Placer County will receive about $20,000. The rest of the money will go to the County’s partners in the assessment. The Health Impact Project, which is giving the grant, is a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trust. Nationwide, there are 14 other grantees that will receive funding for a HIA.
For more information, please contact Brett Storey, Biomass Project Manager, by phone: 530-745-3011, or by e-mail.