Madison County to vote on proposed moratorium on biomass facilities

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MARSHALL — At its Aug. 2 meeting, the county’s planning board tabled a vote on proposed additions to its land use ordinance regarding language on biomass facilities.

The county took the issue one step further when it announced it will vote at its Oct. 10 meeting on instituting a temporary ban on biomass installations.

County Land Use Attorney John Noor released a draft moratorium outlining the proposed temporary ban, as he did with the county’s six-month ban on new event venues in June, at the September 19 Madison County Board of Commissioners meeting.

According to Noor, the key language introduced in the moratorium project is to define a biomass facility.

“That’s basically what you would put a moratorium on,” Noor said. “So this would be a time, in particular, to think about, does this cover everything we want to put a moratorium on? Is it too inclusive, and do we want to adapt it and provide feedback so that we can change this definition if necessary?

During the August 2 meeting, Board Member Alan Wyatt asked Director of Planning and Zoning Terrey Dolan and Director of Developmental Services Brad Guth what specifically prompted proposed language additions, and Guth said an unnamed power company approached him about potentially bringing business to Madison.

“I had a survey of a biomass facility,” Guth said. “I don’t have a lot of specifics on that. As with any economic development project, they had a third party working for them. We don’t have anything on the books to regulate a biomass facility. So if they posited, I felt, talking to Terrey, that we needed to have something on the books to address biomass – whether it was the large industrial-type facility, or whether it was a small thing.”

Also at the August 2 meeting, about 10 residents spoke out against the prospect of bringing a biomass facility to the county, including Louis Zeller, the former executive director of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.

“Biomass is part of the problem, not part of the solution,” Zeller said. “Burning biomass is the burning of organic matter. Replacing wood with charcoal does not reduce carbon emissions. If I was a member of the planning board, my hair would be on fire – if I was left – to do something to prevent what’s happening in Kentucky, or what’s happening in California, from happening here in North Carolina.”

Marshall resident and local environmental organization Jim Tibbetts, founder of Clear Sky Madison, explained why he was apprehensive about the county hosting a biomass facility.

“Until we put in place clearer rules, we are an easy target for predatory industries coming in, global industries that have factories all over the world, to come and decimate our forests, as they have already done in the Southeast.”

According to Noor, the moratorium would give the Planning Board time to draft specific wording relating to biomass installations in the Land Use Ordinance.

“What the Planning Council basically said was, ‘We need more time to fight this, to come up with a well-educated recommendation for all of you,'” Noor said. “In the meantime, because we have had inquiries to the county about these types of facilities, it would be best to put the moratorium in place, give the planning board time to develop the regulations, bring them all to you so that nothing can be submitted in the meantime and encloses virtually no rules.

“Under your current order, what would happen is that if a biomass facility were proposed, Terrey would have to try to find the most closely related definitional use in your order and apply those standards,” Noor said. . “Keep in mind that in your residential-agricultural districts, which make up about 95% of the county, there are definitions that currently would allow them to be used as of right. So that again gives staff time to come up with the right regulations. and block all apps at once.”

Next steps

The Planning Board will release its proposed changes to the language of biomass in the Land Use Ordinance to County Commissioners before the October 10 meeting.

“The moratorium will buy the time needed for the Planning Board to give it the attention it deserves and allow us to do the same,” Commissioner Matt Wechtel said.

Noor said the county could also form a focus group, as it did with the courthouse renovation project and the overhaul of its public safety and emergency management radio system.

The Madison County Board of Commissioners will vote on proposed amendments to the Biomass Facility Language Land Use Ordinance at its Oct. 10 meeting, which will be held at 7 p.m. at the NC Cooperative Extension. , located at 258 Carolina Lane in Marshall.

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