November 01, 2001 11:00 pm
Mark Rappaport ().
Mark Rappaport ().

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Forest managers in Northeast Oregon have been talking for years about ways to turn trash wood into profits. They may soon find a market.

An Oregon City businessman has begun laying the groundwork to build a biomass energy and ethanol manufacturing plant in the Baum Industrial Park northeast of Island City. Marc Rappaport plans to purchase about 60 acres in the park from the Union County Economic Development Corporation, if he can put together the necessary permits.

Rappaport, who met with public and private woodland managers Thursday in La Grande, said he expects the plant to hire between 50 and 75 people at most certainly higher than minimum wage. The operation will produce 15 megawatts of power per hour and 15 million gallons of ethanol a year. Rappaport said he expects the plant to generate revenue of $25 million annually, $6 million to $7 million of which will go directly into the local economy.

The entrepreneur sees no problem in finding waste wood locally to provide the 300,000 tons of material needed every year.

The material is out there, Rappaport said. There are millions of acres of overstocked forests.

Rappaport said he will use a new manufacturing process to make ethanol.

The way were configuring the facility is a first, he said.

Rappaport, whose corporation Sustainable Energy Development is headquartered in Oregon City, said he has been involved in energy manufacturing for a number of years. He has held financial interest in Biomass One in Medford for about 16 years, and he said he is a member of a committee that has been studying ways to use wood waste.

The Forest Service asked me to help find a way to use forest fuels, Rappaport said. I had been aware of a process to convert cellulose to ethanol; Id known of a system for about 10 years or more.

In addition to buying waste wood, including slash, from small woodland owners, as well as commercial and public forests, the company will accept, but not pay for, clean yard debris for recycling, he said.

Water will be the major ingredient in the process of distilling ethanol from wood. Rappaport said the plant will be equipped with an internal system that minimizes emissions.

The environmental impact (of the plants operation) will be minimal, he said. We do not plan to dump into the river. The waste will be wood ash, and well have much smaller emissions than other wood co-gen plants.

Rappaport said hed like to sell the electricity to the Bonneville Power Association.

The next step in Rappaports preparation for plant construction will be obtaining a conditional use permit from the Union County Planning Commission. He said he expects to apply next week. After that, he hopes to secure his financing and close the purchase of the Baum Industrial Park property. If all goes well, construction will begin by next summer and will take between 15 and 18 months, he said.

The La Grande plant will be the first in a series of similar energy-producing operations, he said.