- by Al Maiorino, March 3, 2015, Environmental Leader
[Al Maiorino's Public Strategy Group helps corporations, such as energy companies, push back against community grassroots resistance. This article outlines some industry tactics. -Josh]
In 2014, the United States Departments of the Navy, Energy and Agriculture awarded a $70 million grant to Red Rock Biofuels for the design, construction, commissioning and performance testing of a new biofuel refinery. The biorefinery is planned for Lakeview, Oregon, close to the Fremont Nation Forest and the intersecting state lines of Oregon, Nevada, and California. This new renewable project aims to expand military fuel sources, improve reliability of the nation’s fuel supply and prevent supply disruption to reinforce the nation’s energy security. Despite these benefits that bring additional employment and revenue benefits for the local community of Lakeview, NIMBY, or “not in my backyard,” opponents to biofuel refineries across the United States run fierce opposition campaigns that threaten project completion. These campaigns can often result in project delays or even cancellation all together, and despite a properly zoned site.
Two Lake County Commissioners, Brad Winters and Ken Kestner, support the biofuel project and believe that when completed, the project will improve Lakeview’s air quality by creating healthier forests and preventing forest fires. Additionally, Oregon Business wrote an economic report stating that the biofuel plant would create up to “25 direct and 79 to 109 indirect and induced jobs,” resulting in an increase in labor income. However, Commissioner Winters acknowledged the myths promoted by the opposition that take hold by noting that those opposed to the creation of the biorefinery are not basing their concerns and objections on factual information. Winters emphasized the importance of community members’ attendance at review workshops and hearings in order to become more informed as state and federal agencies evaluate the proposal as a prerequisite for completion.
Despite a successful rezone of the proposed site by the Lake County Planning Board, opponents remain focused on keeping the proposal out of their community. They fear that transporting these biofuels through the Lake County railroad from Lakeview to Alturas could possibly result in derailments with damaging effects on the community. The opposition is highly organized, holding meetings to strategize and planning petition drives to re-open the process for public comment before the County Commissioners. As is the case with some projects, the opposition group is also instigating a recall drive against Lake County Commissioners and Lakeview Town Council members, showing that all land use truly is political in nature.
Meanwhile, supporters are hoping that this project will receive the necessary approvals according to current plans so construction can begin in summer or fall of 2015 for operations to commence by 2016. Just as the opponents have utilized grassroots tactics to add to their numbers, so too much supporters. To save time and money, companies must engage communities and stakeholders throughout the entire permitting process to ensure that community members are informed and engaged every step. By identifying and mobilizing members of what is often the silent majority, public support can be built throughout Lake County for a quick and successful project approval.