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SPEECH President's Message

by Janine Gates

For The Evergreen State College (TESC), its biomass issue has become a public relations 'biomess.'

So when the Grim Reaper walked into Evergreen's biomass community meeting in late October, people chuckled, albeit nervously. Dressed in black, head-to-toe, and face covered, we figured he was a commentary on the meeting subject, and not just someone trying out their Halloween costume a couple days early.

Evergreen's desire to heat its campus buildings, and be carbon neutral, by 2020 is a great goal - one worthy of learning about so Evergreen can not only accomplish this for its own good, but even better, set an example and offer a successful blueprint for how other institutions can get off earth-robbing fossil fuels.

Their biomass gasification feasibility study has been a tough sell, with many confusing it with the Adage biomass incinerator currently being proposed for Mason County. They are very different facilities, but what both have in common is the use of biomass - wood - and wood, in any form, means trees.

The October 29th meeting was poorly attended due, in part, to Evergreen disseminating the meeting information just two days prior, and to a very limited number of people, mostly Evergreen staff and faculty. July's community meeting was equally dismal, garnering just two neighborhood association presidents, and myself.

As an alumna, I'm usually one of Evergreen's biggest cheerleaders, but in this case, the college's handling of community interest and involvement regarding the issue has been disappointing. Disappointing because they should be involving more community perspectives on this critical issue.

The community cares about the biomass discussion, as evidenced at various meetings and protests, and in heated conversations on local environmental list-serves, including SPEECH's own EnviroTalk. TESC student Dani Madrone deserves special recognition, and is doing an outstanding job in almost single-handedly accomplishing what Evergreen has not done well: reaching out to local organizations and individuals to facilitate a public, rational discussion, gathering accurate information, and educating the public. C.V. Rotondo of Evergreen's Counter Point Journal produced a well-balanced, lengthy article for its October issue that is also to be commended.

In my mind, since we will all be breathing the air, the TESC Sustainability Council should be broadened to include state experts, city and county officials, neighborhood association representatives, TESC alumni, local environmental groups and regular, concerned citizens. We all need to be informed and participate in the discussion.

The issue is about process and it seems to be moving quickly. Evergreen says they have, in the past, explored other options: ground source heat pumps were looked at in 2006 but were deemed to be too expensive. Air source heat pumps, a new technology, will be explored as another option, but Evergreen says it's probably not economical because they use electricity.

Evergreen needs to ensure the community at large that all other possible options are explored, not just biomass. Evergreen says if the facility comes to pass, it will only use wood resources from state Department of Natural Resources land, small, local, private forestry sources and urban wood waste such as tree trimmings. Is this realistic? Sustainable? There are lots of good questions, but so far, not many good answers.

During the meeting, people made a passionate list of what trees meant to them: food, timber, beauty, spirit, shelter, an ecosystem, a carbon store, a defense against soil erosion, a structure for the forest, and hydrology - they are a water pump for the earth. They are the lungs of the planet. They are living beings that have rights.

On a positive note, the meeting ended well. After we moved our chairs around into a circle so we could all see each other, we shared our values and explored what concerns we may have in common, such as health and social justice issues. The Grim Reaper took off his mask. In true Evergreen style, good things usually happen when we seminar about the subjects at hand.

In closing, I want to invite you to another community gathering where you can learn about some significant local environmental history. SPEECH is honored to host several powerful Native voices at an event recognizing local tribal fishing rights in December. Please join us on Wednesday, December 1st, 6:30 p.m., at Traditions Fair Trade, 300 5th Avenue SW, in downtown Olympia. It is an opportunity to view the classic, locally produced movie, "As Long As The Rivers Run," and hear the stories of this history from those who made it. See our related article on page five.

Janine Gates is president of SPEECH and can be reached through her website at http://www.janinegatesphotography.com or her Olympia news blog at http://www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com

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Updated 2015/01/07 21:14:22