There was an interesting comment made on a post from last week that I thought was worth delving into. I wrote out a long reply, and I thought it was a good enough question/discussion to become a post. As I’ve said in the past, I appreciate contradicting opinions here, because they make me think. Berliner’s question made me think, and write, why it is I don’t come out staunchly against the Laidlaw proposal, aside from the obvious fact that my profession precludes it. I know this discussion always gets people fired up, but a lot has been happening lately, so it’s worth revisiting as the SEC review moves forward.
One more thing:
I want to thank Berliner for the question, both for its content and its tone. It was asked with respect, which often evaporates in this discussion, particularly online. My opinion may not match yours, and I may have flaws in my logic. Anyone can welcome to disagree with me, and I encourage opposing viewpoints. I don’t erase any comments (except the spam I’ve been getting lately since I moved from Blogger, not sure what that’s about), but I appreciate thoughtful discussion more than vitriolic rants. Please follow Berliner’s lead and disagree cordially; insults don’t change minds.
I know you cannot admit this because it would upset your good friends (Grenier, Rozek & Danderson) but doesn’t your gut tell you that having a biomass plant in the middle of the City won’t be real conducive to tourism development efforts? Open your mind for a minute and think of the possibilities of this City without heavy industry in the downtown area. Doesn’t that seem like a wonderful opportunity to you? I know you don’t have children but if you did and if you lived on the East side of Berlin would you want your child to grow up in the shadow of a biomass plant? Do you like recreating in the woods or do you enjoy hiking through miles of clear cuts? If you try hard enough, I think you might begin to realize that the City of Berlin (and Coos County for that matter) is much better off without Laidlaw than it will be with it.
Now that I’m off my soap box I’d love to hear why you believe a biomass plant in downtown Berlin is such a great idea for this City. The Pros of the plant do not even come close to outweighing the Cons. There are only 2 benefits; 40 jobs and some added tax revenue. That is not enough for me to welcome Laidlaw to my community with open arms.
What do you say my friend? Do you have an opinion or are you simply convinced that Grenier in his infinite wisdom knows what is best for the City and therefore we should all capitulate to this car salesman while he tries to sell us a lemon?
Thanks for your thoughtful comments.
I see a bright future for Berlin with or without a biomass plant in the center of the city. Berlin’s future isn’t dependent on the success or failure of the Laidlaw proposal, or, for that matter, the Clean Power Development proposal. It is dependent on the city’s ability to diversify its economy after a century of relying on one industry. Today no single project can turn the city around, and no single project can bring it down.
Would 40 jobs help? Yes. Would 100 logging and trucking jobs help? Yes. Would cleaning up the mill site and transforming it into a productive space provide benefits? Yes. Will it be the key that turns Berlin’s future around? No.
Berlin’s future, in my mind, is a ship in mid-turn. Even if both biomass plants get built they won’t create as many jobs as the federal prison. A river-walk and cheap steam to the Cascade mill in two years won’t do as much to revitalize the city as the millions of dollars being spent to rehabilitate whole neighborhoods. The ATV park is one part of Berlin’s future, the college is another. Main Street retail shops and the state prison fill another niche. The future of Berlin is in the mix, not one industry, and that mix is still growing and developing. Someday soon Berlin may have a truly diverse economy, but the ship has to keep turning to make that happen.
A biomass plant won’t jeopardize this new path. A redeveloped mill site won’t close the prison. It won’t close the ATV park. It won’t stop the educational opportunities at WMCC, and it won’t reverse the rehabilitation the city’s neighborhoods are undergoing.
Are there legitimate concerns? Absolutely. If loggers strip the forest bare in order to feed the biomass plants it would threaten recreational tourism, a key portion of the city’s future. If either company is out to make a quick buck off Berlin instead of follow through on its commitment that would be a problem. But those concerns are not the same as to whether Berlin can survive with a biomass plant in its downtown.
Berlin can survive no matter what. Berlin residents have seen hard times, and better times are on the horizon. The biomass plants, should they be built or should they fail, are simply a bump along Berlin’s journey. They are one more possibility, one possible slice of Berlin’s future economic base.
The truth of it is I don’t exactly agree with either side. Mayor Grenier and Councilor Danderson seem to think this project will be Berlin’s savior. It won’t. But opponents seem to think it will be Berlin’s undoing. It won’t. It may or may not happen, and whether it does or not Berlin will have to continue to spread its economic tentacles for a sustainable future.
I understand the argument of both, but I agree with neither. The project won’t save the city, but it also won’t end all possibilities for other development. I know it’s in the center of town, but what do the Main Street people always say? A city’s face is it’s Main Street. Energy might be better spent supporting growth there than fighting development elsewhere.
Instead, energy has been squandered in this debate. People spend hours protesting this one project, while other projects, like Rumorz Boutique, fail. What if opponents of Laidlaw became vocal supports of Main Street? What would that do? What if supporters of Laidlaw became active opponents of slumlords? What would Berlin turn into then? I understand the ideological divide, but I lament the lost possibilities. Berlin will succeed or fail based on its overall economic diversity, which is far more encompassing than one project. A biomass plant on the mill site matters little in the long run.
If the SEC does their job the project will either be well-run or will never get off the ground—either works fine for me. Berlin’s future is based on more than just this one project, and this one project doesn’t have the ability to end the city’s rise.
Again, I do appreciate your comments and the thoughtful discussion.
Quick aside: I didn’t address Berliner’s question about kids playing around the stacks. I have never looked into questions of the safety of emissions from biomass plants. That would be an interesting conversation for the industry as a whole, not just Laidlaw, CPD. and Berlin I’ve heard some talk about it in discussions about the projects, but I don’t know about its impact overall. Hmm… I smell a story here.