Residents warding off biodiesel fears

Residents are railing against the safety of a biodiesel plant that has been in development for three years, claiming that the facility poses a danger to a nearby school and to the environment.

The $2.4 million project may be built later this year next to the Calera Creek Water Recycling Plant off of Highway 1 and will share the same facilities as the water plant. It is expected to produce 3 million gallons of alternative fuel a year, city officials said.

The project was approved by the City Council last month and must still be approved by the Coastal Commission, a regional agency that regulates the use of land and water on the coastside.

The biodiesel proposal was conceived three years ago by city leaders, a local nonprofit called Liveability Project and Washington-based alternative fuel company Whole Energy.

“I believe all the proponents have lost sight of the forest for the trees — no one understood the scale of what they were proposing,” resident Lionel Emde said. “The bigger it gets, the bigger the risk is. One big spill and the creek is gone.”

Resident Mark Stechbart called the project a “scam” because he claimed the plan wasn’t sufficiently reviewed before its approval. He said that a report on its impact to the surrounding area was inserted as an addendum to the Calera Creek water plant’s own environmental impact report.

But Nancy Hall of Liveability Project said the wastewater treatment plant site is ideal for the biodiesel facility because it is structured to contain any spills.

“That site is designed to handle those kinds of materials — it’s a bowl-shaped parking lot designed in case there is a spill,” said Hall, who drives a biodiesel-fueled car. “That’s one of the reasons it’s such a good fit.”

As a response to the questions by residents, Hall, a Pacifica resident, has launched an informational Web site to provide answers about the project.

The city is also trying to ward off any doubt about the safety of the project. In a meeting tonight, Mayor Jim Vreeland, who has played an important part in planning the biodiesel facility, will address the concerns of some residents and the Pacifica School Board on whether the plant would pose any danger to the nearby Vallemar Elementary School. Vreeland said the city’s analysis does not indicate that the biodiesel facility would add any safety issues for the school.

The Coastal Commission’s decision is expected in April.

svasilyuk@examiner.com

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