August 22, 2012 | Back to: News

Tahoe/Truckee biomass facility: Health impacts projected to be minimal

TRUCKEE, Calif. — The results of the preliminary Health Impact Assessment for the proposed two-megawatt biomass facility for the region are in.

Seven points of interest were studied to assess the potential health risks and benefits of the proposed biomass facility: air quality; wildfire risks; greenhouse emissions; traffic and safety; noise; water quality; and energy security and economic impacts.

“This really is essentially where rubber meets the road,” said Max Richardson, an HIA program manager from the Sequoia Foundation, to a room of approximately 30 people in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District offices Monday evening. “We’re trying to synthesize findings to some communicable risk or communicable benefit that is understood.”

The Sequoia Foundation, an environmental public health research group, in partnership with Placer County, was awarded a grant by PEW Charitable Trusts and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to fund the assessment.

In terms of air quality, irritation from construction dust and health impacts from vehicles going in and out of the facility would be “unlikely,” according to the assessment, and if people were to be negatively impacted, it would be very few.

Traffic in the area is expected to increase, with an estimated additional 66 vehicles a day on the road during the heaviest period of construction, and once the facility is running, 11 to 23 additional vehicles are expected on the road per day.

Currently, Highway 89 has between 10,600 to 18,400 vehicles traveling on it a day, according to the assessment; based on those figures, it’s “unlikely” there would be an increase in injuries and deaths or a reduction in physical activity due to the addition of facility traffic.

Reductions in physical injuries and home displacement due to wildfires, along with positive impacts on community fire anxiety, is “possible,” according to the assessment, since the facility will convert woody debris from forestlands — which can increase the risk of wildfire — and convert it to sustainable energy.

A negative health impact from biomass emissions is “possible,” but the number of those who could be impacted would be small. Another “possible” health effect, according to the assessment, is an increase in income and access to medical treatment, considering as many as 23 jobs during construction of the facility could be created.

Noise annoyance caused by construction and operation both day and night, as well as health effects from stormwater contamination, is thought to be “unlikely.”

“I have to stress that this is preliminary draft assessment,” said Bindi Gandhi, an HIA program manager from the Sequoia Foundation. “This isn’t final by any means. We’re really looking for community feedback on this assessment. … That’s what really this meeting is about; we’re really looking to hear from you.”

Several meeting attendants asked questions about the project and the assessment’s findings, and brought up additional concerns about the facility.

“When I think of noise, I also think of light pollution, and I’m wondering if light — I heard that it’s going to be open 24/7, 365 (days a year), and I know from Donner Lake when Squaw Valley is lit up on Friday and Saturday nights, it impacts our night sky,” said Anne Grogan, who lives near Donner Lake.

To which Brett Storey, biomass project manager for Placer County, replied: “This is a pretty small building tucked up in an industrial site where you won’t be able to see any of the light unless you’re standing next to it, but we are required to do the same lighting as all shopping centers; it’s downward-facing, it’s at a certain level at certain times.”

A final HIA report will incorporate comments from the public and survey results and should be complete by mid-to-end October, Gandhi said.

“We have yet to schedule this, but we will schedule another meeting where we’ll present the final report and our final findings to you all,” she said.

Another public meeting related to the biomass project, this time discussing the draft environmental impact report, will be at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 30, at the Granlibakken Resort in Tahoe City.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Aug 22, 2012 10:54AM Published Aug 22, 2012 10:52AM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.