I grew up in the Little Hanaford Valley about 5 miles southwest of the Centralia Steam Plant. As a kid (prior to the steam plant), I hunted deer with my dad around the hills northeast of our farm. Back then, the area was pristine timberland. There were many small farms in both the Little Hanaford and Big Hanaford valleys.
I don't remember when the Centralia Steam Plant was built — I do remember how excited everyone was because of the promise of good, high-paying jobs and that the mine would not adversely affect the environment because the steam plant was required to reclaim all mined areas and put the land back with the same contours as it was before the mining.
For many years, I continued hunting deer in the area. After the steam plant was in operation for a short time, the pristine timberland in the area was not pristine anymore. There was a heavy gray muck that coated the needles of the fir trees. Later, the Department of Ecology stepped in and required the steam plant to put in scrubbers to eliminate this contaminating gunk. I am not a scientist, but I have heard it was heavily contaminated with mercury. Later, the powers that be required the steam plant to switch from coal in phases.
The latest word on the steam plant is that TransAlta wants to give the land to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for a wildlife reserve. To me, this lets them off the hook for about $80 million in reclamation costs. I have been told there are some 3,600 acres needing reclamation.
In 2006, TransAlta closed the mining operation. They started shipping coal from Montana to fire the plant. That was when the economy here started its downward spiral.
Where did all the profits from the steam plant go? They are squelching on a reported $80 million in reclamation costs. Yes, it is nice that they gave our college funds to build the TransAlta Commons and a number of other givebacks I don't exactly recall.
Bet it wasn't worth $80 million.
I feel they need to honor the conditions of their licensing to produce power and do the reclamation of all the mine pits — not act like a big donor and "give" the property away to a state agency. When you make a donation, you get a tax writeoff. Where does the authority lay to make them honor their contract to do the reclamations?
In addition, if they give this land to WDFW (a non-taxpaying entity), it takes about 10,000 acres off the tax rolls. Guess who is going to have to make up this huge tax deficit? You and I.