Shelton, WA, residents are fighting county officials and the energy company ADAGE over a biomass power plant proposed for their town, calling the power plant—which would run on harvested forest debris—little more than a giant burn barrel that will present a serious health risk for the town's 56,000 residents.

"They want to put this incinerator fourteen hundred feet from our town's soccer and baseball fields," says Linda Paladin, spokeswoman for Incineratorfreemasoncounty.com. "Within two miles of the site we've got two elderly homes, a hospital, our shopping center, and at least four schools. We have a right to be alarmed. They're proposing burning 600,000 tons of wood a year. What is all that ash going to do to us?"

Wood debris is considered a renewable resource under state initiative 937. State Senator Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch), who also acts as a Mason County Commissioner, says the facility is a good fit for the community. "We have a huge timber base, the mainstay of all our manufacturing is forest products. We have tons of slash. That's what this facility would run on—slash." Sheldon adds that community concerns are "a bit premature" considering that the environmental review process has yet to be finished.

But Shelton residents say they have a right to be worried, and that local officials aren't taking their concerns seriously. "ADAGE won't guarantee that the jobs they create will be filled locally," says Paladin, "they won't address noise concerns for this plant that will be running 24/7, and they won't address how running 160 diesel trucks back and forth through town every day to deliver slash fits into their definition of green energy."

"Our elected officials are supposed to be representing our interests and they aren't," adds local blogger Brenda Hirschi. "We’re trying to shame our elected officials into a dialogue. Shame them into answering our questions and talking about this."

More after the jump.

When reached today by phone, ADAGE spokesman Tom DePonty said that the facility will provide "over 400 direct construction jobs for two-and-a-half years, then 24 permanent positions, and over 100 jobs for feedstock supply and delivery," and said the company would "make a concerted effort" to hire local labor for feedstock supply and deliver jobs.

Meanwhile, Paladin says that nationwide, people are taking a closer look at biomass power plants. "ADAGE was kicked out of Florida thanks to citizen opposition, and Massachusetts has biomass on the ballot to do a full statewide environmental impact study."

For their part, local environmental groups don't have a strong sense of what a wood burning facility would do to the local environment—yet. "Biomass is just starting to come on strong in Washington state," says Becky Kelley, spokeswoman for the Washington Environmental Council. "We're just now ramping up our investigation of this issue. It's clearly an important one."

Nevertheless, DePonty says the company meets all the state and quality air standards and is planning to break ground on a biomass power plant by December of this year, following approval from the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency and a state environmental impact review. DePonty says the plant would produce roughly 55 megwatts of power annually, which is enough to power 44,000 homes.