Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
A BETTER BIOMASS PLANT
Controversy surrounds the proposed Seneca biomass plant, which would burn logging slash, releasing toxins into the air in Eugene. But there are other ways to create energy from waste, and a proposed bioenergy plant in Junction City seeks to offer a cleaner alternative.
Mike McKenzie Bahr, Lane County community and economic development coordinator, says the proposed bioenergy park that will produce energy from grass straw, a byproduct of the grass seed industry, and other wastes, will involve no burning. “Since we eliminated burning,” he says, “why burn?”
The bioenergy park being developed by a team of people from Lane Council of Governments, Lane County, Oregon Seed Council and the Oregon Department of Agriculture. The park would be one in a proposed string of such facilities up the Willamette Valley that will produce energy from “problematic wastes that don’t have a home,” McKenzie-Bahr says. Milo Mecham of LCOG says a string of facilities instead of one large facility would cut down on the distances that grass straw and logging slash would have to be trucked.
According to McKenzie-Bahr, the goals of the bioenergy facility include not only not burning, but also not displacing foods, like corn-based ethanol does.
The facility would involve an anaerobic digester, which McKenzie-Bahr says in laymen’s terms means that bacteria in a sealed container would digest material such as grass straw and possibly grape leaves from local wineries, among other wastes. “The bacteria does two things,” he says. “It poops and it farts. It farts methane.”
The methane would then be used to power diesel engines, also in a sealed-off area, to produce electricity. McKenzie-Bahr says that the CO2 byproduct of the engines would go back into digester to aid the bacteria. The heat from the engines would be used both in producing cellulosic ethanol from agricultural wastes, and in drying and compressing the “dirty wood” from logging slash piles into biobricks for home heating.
Mecham says that the biobricks burn cleaner than the more moist wood ordinarily used in fireplaces and wood stoves.
The other byproduct of the anaerobic digester, McKenzie Bahr says, is the “poop” from the bacteria. That becomes compost, which can then go back to the grass seed growers who can use it to replace the nutrients the field burning process gave the soil.
Lisa Arkin of Oregon Toxics Alliance, which has worked to end field burning and spoken out against the Seneca biomass plant, says, “At first glance, OTA is very supportive of an anaerobic digester; it’s a fascinating thing for Lane County to investigate.”
McKenzie-Bahr says another key component of the plant is maximizing local jobs out of the process. The funding, he says, will be based on an industrial park model with public financing to set up the grounds and private green energy companies paying for their facilities. They hope to break ground on the facility in 2010. — Camilla Mortensen
PERMACULTURE GATHERING BEGINS FRIDAY
The 12th Annual Eugene Permaculture Gathering runs Aug. 28-30 this year. The event was previously known as the Cascadia Ecofair and will take place at Maitreya EcoVillage, 1641 W. Broadway in Eugene.
The event features meals, entertainment, tours, and workshops on introductory gardening, soil fertility, food preservation techniques, swine flu, rainwater catchment systems, beekeeping, building sustainably with accessible materials, property conversion, neighborhood collaboration and much more, according to Clay Grantham, a UO sociology doctoral student who will speak on “The Truth About the Economic Meltdown.”
Other speakers include Joshua Smith, Luna Lacy, Brian Basor, Rick Valley, Jude Hobbs, Heiko Koester, Heather Flores, Jan Spencer, Devon Bonady, John Sundquist, Taylor Zeigler, Nick Routledge, Mark Robinowitz, Matt McRae, Megan Hinkel, Indigo Ronlov, Aleta Miller, Charlotte Anthony, Dan Armstrong, Eric Meyer and Joshua Smith.
“Permaculture is a design system for creating sustainable human environments,” Grantham says. “It is based on an ethic of interacting with the natural world in mutually beneficial ways, and meeting our basic needs closer to where we live, without dependence on extraction of resources from other locations.”
Sliding scale ticket prices for the whole weekend start at $30. Daily rates, work trades and scholarships are available. For more information or registration, visit permaculturegathering.org or call 345-6822.
CONFUSED ABOUT HEALTH CARE?
One thing is clear after Congressman Peter DeFazio’s recent packed town hall meetings: Most people are unclear about the proposed health care plan. Attendees at the Aug. 18 meeting in Eugene came and stood in line in the hot sun to protest, counter-protest or sometimes to find out a little more about all of the brouhaha.
Eugenean Peggy Casper said she attended the meeting in order to find out more about co-ops. She said currently she and her husband have good health insurance, but they are looking into options for when he retires. Health care cooperatives began making news after the Obama administration indicated it might accept co-ops as a possible alternative should the public option get written out the health care bill.
Sen. Ken Conrad (D-ND) is a strong advocate of co-ops. He has put up a website (at www.conrad.senate.gov) addressing many of the questions about how he proposes the co-ops be run under his “Consumer Owned and Operated Plan” (CO-OP). In his proposal, the co-ops would be nonprofits that would provide insurance to members and contract with provider networks for care. The federal government would provide the seed money for the co-ops, but after that they would be run by members and a democratically elected board that “would make decisions such as determining premiums, benefits covered, deductibles and co-pays.”
Seattle-based Group Health Cooperative here in the Northwest is often cited as an example of a successful medical co-op, as is Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin, which ranked 8th in the nation in commercial health care plans, according to a National Committee for Quality Assurance study published in U.S. News and World Report.
Other town hall attendees came to express displeasure over issues they think are being raised by President Obama’s proposal to reform health care. Sandra Hickey of Corvallis came to the meeting holding an “Obama Lies, Granny Dies” sign. She said, “I don’t think we should give illegal immigrants health care, but Obama’s going to give health care to the illegals, but not seniors.”
Obama addressed that concern in his most recent weekly address on Aug. 22, when he said, “Let’s start with the false claim that illegal immigrants will get health insurance under reform. That’s not true. Illegal immigrants would not be covered. That idea has never even been on the table.”
Francisca Levya-Johnson, a city human rights program staff member attending the meeting, but speaking she said while “on vacation,” said that those “afraid of a national health care plan,” should know that “there are piles of research on how immigrants access health care services. They don’t.”
Obama’s recent weekly radio address tackled other misrepresentations of the proposed plan including government funded abortions and so called “death panels.” DeFazio also addressed such issues if they arose from a questioner at his meetings and handed out a fact sheet on the proposal to attendees, as well as a comment card and an invite to join in on his Sept. 3 “TeleTown Hall.” Sign up by 5 pm Sept. 2 to participate. See www.defazio.house.gov for more information. — Camilla Mortensen
Bike projects make going Greener
While billions of taxpayer dollars go into local freeways that throttle livability and the planet, a few million are being spent on greener, more human transportation.
Here’s a look at some major upcoming bike projects based on documents from the Metropolitan Policy Commission. The MPC is the less known, less democratic interjurisdictional committee run by LCOG (the less known, undemocratic local planning bureaucracy) that oversees all the freeway projects and a few bike projects. Here are the bike projects:
• Springfield Middle Fork path. An MPC amendment last month “slips construction to 2010” of the first phase of this $6 million project. Curiously, Willamalane has planned the first $3 million phase as the portion east of the planned Quarry Creek Bridge. Funding for the second phase west of the bridge, connecting the path to popular Dorris Ranch, remains unclear. Also unclear is funding for a possible bike bridge across the river to the Buford Park/Mt. Pisgah Arboretum area. Biking from Eugene all the way to Pisgah on scenic and quiet off-road trails along the river has long been a dream of local cyclists.
• Delta Highway overpass. Half of this $6 million project is funded by the Obama stimulus and is supposed to start in the next month. A few right-wingers (including a Republican U.S. Senator from Oklahoma) have complained about this and other bike projects. But the bridge is more about mitigating the impact of a dangerous freeway that cut off huge neighborhoods full of kids and families from the city’s riverfront parks and bike paths, one of the city’s most popular amenities. The elevated bridge will also provide scenic views of the Delta Ponds, former gravel pits excavated for the freeways that are now successfully restored into habitat for heron, turtles, geese and beaver.
• Eugene riverfront bike path under Beltline. This $2.2 million project will mitigate the impact of the Beltline freeway cutting off the 17,000 people in Santa Clara from the river by providing an underpass and connection to the riverfront bike and park system. Accommodating unsafe gravel truck driveways delayed the project and added another $1 million in cost to relocate the path to the other side of an access road. The project now appears to be planned and funded, but it’s unclear when the bike path will be completed.
• I-5 underpass. As a tiny part of its ongoing $180 million I-5 bridge widening project, ODOT has included a $1.5 million project to connect the riverfront bike trail through the freeway mess. — Alan Pittman
When Shay Casey sent her boyfriend and their two dogs off for an afternoon of fishing on Elk Creek in Douglas County on Aug. 21, she thought Porter Cable the puppy and Kuta Ku the therapy dog would spend a couple of hours romping in the sun and water. Instead both dogs died within minutes of arriving at the river.
Casey says her boyfriend got to the confluence of Elk Creek and the Umpqua River near Elkton around 4 pm and began to fish. Within 15 minutes Porter, the puppy, began going into convulsions. Thinking the dog was drowning, the pup’s owner began to give him mouth to mouth, only to see Kuta begin to convulse. Suspecting poison, he rinsed his face and mouth, gathered Porter in his arms and began to run to his truck. The puppy died on the way there. Kuta died in the truck shortly after. “I just feel like I let them down,” Casey’s boyfriend says.
What killed the dogs, and even what is going to be done about it, is still unclear. Casey thinks the fast acting toxin may have been some sort of predator poison — strychnine or an M-44 cyanide device — set out to kill coyotes. Brooks Fahy of Predator Defense, who has been working to ban such predator poisons that kill family pets as well as the coyotes they target, agrees. He says this case sounds like many others he has looked into over the years.
Dwes Hutson of the Douglas County Sheriff’s office, one of the many agencies involved in investigating the issue, says a search didn’t turn up any toxic residue, but Casey and her boyfriend, who asked not to be named, say they have now been told that both the remains of meth manufacturing and a possible illegal baiting situation were found.
Casey says at this point from talking to other people in the area, it appears that at least three other dogs have all died at the creek in the past three weeks. As of Aug. 24 no signs had been posted at the creek to warn others of the danger.
“We don’t know if it’s a criminal case or just a tragic accident,” Hutson says. “Our priority is to find out what the substance is.”
Hutson says the Sheriff’s office will begin posting signs near the creek Aug. 25.
According to Fahy, if there is illegal baiting near the river, it could also affect wildlife like eagles and osprey that feed on carrion.
The remains of Porter, a 9-month old blue heeler, and Kuta, a husky, will be tested for toxins. Casey says that Kuta was a therapy dog for the alter-abled whose owner is currently teaching in Thailand. “They were both really good boys,” she says. “They didn’t do anything to anyone.”
Fahy says it’s not unusual for victims of pet poisoning to not come forward or not want to give their names, “People are so intimidated by this,” he says, “it’s scary.” He adds, “People are afraid of retribution.”
The couple is determined however to find out what happened to the dogs, “I don’t want this thing to be forgotten about because they are just dead dogs,” Casey says, “They’re family members.” She says that the couple wants to get the word out, to warn others who may be going to the creek during the next warm spell or over Labor Day weekend.
The couple plans to have the dogs’ bodies taken to OSU for testing. Results on the tests will take several days. Casey says, “Seeing the dead dogs in the truck, I’ll never get that picture out of my head.” — Camilla Mortensen
• A community reception for Eugene’s new Police Auditor Mark Gissiner will be from 4 to 6 pm Thursday, Aug. 27, in the McNutt Room at City Hall.
• City Club of Eugene is on summer break and is planning an informal gathering to collect input, feedback and suggestions. The free, no-host event is open to anyone interested in City Club, and begins at 6 pm Thursday, Aug. 27, at High Street Brewery and Café, 1243 High St. To get on City Club’s mailing list, send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org
• Friday, Aug. 28, is the extended deadline for public comments to Lane Regional Air Protection Agency on Seneca’s proposed wood-burning power plant. The burner will emit about 500 tons of pollutants into west Eugene’s air every year. Deliver comments to LRAPA, 1010 Main St., Springfield 97477 or email to email@example.com or call 736-1056. Find talking points at www.oregontoxics.org
• The Pitchfork Rebellion is planning a free concert and mock trials at 2 pm Saturday, Aug. 29, outside the old Federal Building at 211 E. 7th Ave. in Eugene. On “trial” will be the “forest-raping, climate changing, corporate eco-terrorists and the government agencies that are under their thumbs,” including Monsanto, the Oregon Department of Forestry, and the Pesticide Division of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Speaker Day Owen will speak on, “Who are the Real Eco-Terrorists?” See News Briefs last week.
• Health Care For All-Oregon and the Archimedes Movement are meeting from 6:30 to 8 pm Wednesday, Sept. 2, at the EWEB Community Room, 500 E. 4th Ave. On the agenda are a review of key congressional health care positions, changes suggested by Oregon congressional members, and an analysis of different groups lobbying Congress. See http://hcao.org for more information.
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003 (last week’s numbers in parentheses):
• 4,334 U.S. troops killed* (4,331)
• 31,469 U.S. troops injured* (31,463)
• 185 U.S. military suicides* (185)
• 1,123 U.S. contractors killed (accurate updates NA)
• 101,388 to 1.2 million civilians killed*** (101,326)
• $676.5 billion cost of war ($674.5 billion)
• $192.4 million cost to Eugene taxpayers ($191.8 million)
• 798 U.S. troops killed* (783)
• 3,614 U.S. troops injured* (3,522)
• $225.1 billion cost of war ($224.5 million)
• $64.0 million cost to Eugene taxpayers ($63.9 million)
* through August 24, 2009; source: icasualties.org; some figures only updated monthly
** sources: icasualties.org, defenselink.mil
*** highest estimate; source: iraqbodycount.org; based on confirmed media reports; other groups calculate civilian deaths as high as 655,000 (Lancet survey, 2006) to 1.2 million
(Opinion Research Business survey, 2008)
• Who’s responsible when an inmate is released early? This week the family of a local woman who was raped by John Reid Dawson filed notice of intent to sue Lane County government. Dawson had been released early from the county jail after spending less than a day of his one-year sentence for shoplifting and resisting arrest (not theft and assault as the R-G story claimed). He went on to commit much more serious crimes. Ordinarily, the county cannot and should not be held responsible for the actions of former prisoners, whether they are released early or not.
What could be relevant if this case goes to court is the method by which the Sheriff’s Office determines who gets an early release. At this point it’s all a big secret, declared confidential by the judges, the sheriff and the warden. Why was Dawson released after one day while homeless people who steal shopping carts occupy jail beds? Citizen efforts to find out how the system works have been thwarted, and even the county commissioners have not gotten the information they have requested. We hear the commissioners have been promised one day’s statistics, but it will take 140 staff hours to compile at a cost of $4,000. How hard can it be to extract useful information from a computerized database? And what can we really learn from one day? Perhaps the family eyeing the lawsuit suspects the Sheriff’s Office has something to hide.
We recognize the difficulty in deciding who gets out early and who doesn’t, but we need a much higher level of transparency in the risk assessment process. Without that transparency, the county commissioners, county Budget Committee and voters will not be able to make informed decisions on how our limited public safety resources should be spent. And more lawsuits could be coming. What’s ironic is that the county government is liable for screw-ups in the risk assessment program, but the commissioners have no knowledge of how it works. Where’s the accountability? You can’t sue the courts, or even sit in on judges’ meetings.
• The more we learn about the Seneca biomass burner, the less we like it, particularly since less toxic ways to generate power from waste products are being proposed in Junction City and elsewhere (see News Briefs this week). One of the problems with the Seneca plant that hasn’t gotten much attention is the huge amount of ash that will be generated daily. We’re not talking about anything on the magnitude of coal ash in Tennessee, but still, tons of toxic wood ash will need to be disposed of, and Seneca figures it will just work it into other products to be distributed around the area in landscaping, agriculture and forestry applications. The ash will contain manganese, chloride, sodium, barium and mercury. Will the products containing this dangerous ash be labeled? Doesn’t look like it. Friday is the last day to submit public comments to LRAPA on the Seneca plant (see Activist Alert).
• Oregon’s campaign finance laws serve a very important purpose. Without them there would be little difference between a contribution to fund a political campaign and a bribe. Enter Sid Leiken, the Republican mayor of Springfield now running for Congress. When cornered, Leiken claims he gave $2,000 in campaign contributions to his mom, supposedly for a poll. But as yet, there’s scant evidence the poll was actually done. Did Leiken simply pocket the money? Why did he give his mom a bundle of cash rather than a check? Why did he hire his mom for a poll rather than someone with experience in scientific polling? Was the $2,000 “donation” to Leiken in exchange for something? Has this happened before? Should someone who can’t/won’t provide documents to answer these questions be mayor, much less sent to Congress where the stakes are much higher?