Controversial Agricultural Advancement Campus is under review

The application was initially deemed incomplete by the city, but the Port can resubmit



Protestors holds signs rejecting the biodiesel plant rezoning, Pullman, Wash. April 10th.

ERIN MULLINS, Evergreen reporter

The Port of Whitman County is continuing with the process to rezone land on Old Wawawai Road. for an Agricultural Advancement Campus, but many Pullman residents object to the plan.

In February, initial plans were for the port to rezone 184 acres of land for AgTech OS to pursue a biodiesel facility, according to the company website. The biodiesel facility would have converted crops into fuel for agriculture operations. There were many community objections to this plan. 

On March 2, the port submitted a Zone Change Application. Then, on March 21, AgTech OS announced it would seek an alternate location for the biodiesel facility. However, the Port is still planning to rezone the land to an Agricultural Advancement Campus. Additionally, the plan would include, “a community park, pedestrian paths and other green spaces.”

Save Pullman, a local group opposed to the rezone, is still concerned about the proposal, despite the relocation of the biodiesel facility, said Janelle Sordelet, a leader for the group who helped coordinate a protest to the rezone on April 10 at Cougar Plaza. 

“What we’re concerned about is that with the industrial rezone, it doesn’t meet our comprehensive plan for the city that states that that land is supposed to be residential. And it’s based on our housing needs going out to 2040,” Sordelet said. “Also, we do not want industrial next to residential. It will devalue our homes. The first tenant was supposed to be AgTech. So now we can’t trust the Port and who they would put there. And once it’s rezoned industrial, you can’t go back.” 

No matter what the Port names the rezone the purpose is still the same, Sordelet said, and it is a waste of tax dollars which does not have community support. Other concerns about the rezoning include traffic, potential car accidents and road maintenance.

Protestor Janelle Sordelet speaks against the biodiesel plant rezoning, April 10, 2023 Pullman, Wash.

The Port initially agreed to interview, but later canceled due to scheduling conflicts.

Executive Director Kara Riebold wrote in an email “I’m not sure I have any new information. The rezone application is on the port and city’s website.”

A petition started by Gwen Anderson, a Pullman resident, to oppose the rezone had over 7,300 signatures at the time of publication. The petition was initially created when the plan was for a biodiesel plant, but has since been updated, “Our fight to stop this rezone attempt CONTINUES,” it states. 

A second petition, which at the time of publication had over 800 signatures, was created by Sordelet in response to the new plans. She asks for residents to sign both petitions in order to make community opposition known.

According to the city website, the rezone application is currently incomplete. The city requested more information from the Port April 3, including a more detailed traffic study and parking analysis.

RJ Lott, community development director for the City of Pullman, said that it is possible the rezone could harm the community but he cannot know if it is appropriate until the missing components of the application are completed. 

“We asked them to do a noise study. And then also some of the information that they had in the traffic counts were not accurate or complete,” Lott said. “Once they resubmit it, and it is complete, then we’ll start an environmental review. I would expect to receive quite a few comments on that because this has been such a high-profile project.”

Whether or not the rezoning goes through does not depend on the number of complaints, but whether complaints bring up logically sound objections, he said. Saying “I vote no” is not helpful. But if a complaint brings up a valid environmental factor that was overlooked, like the speed limits being too high, it could be useful. 

James Carr, who retired as a science and physical education teacher in California and later relocated to Pullman, said that he is the closest house to the proposed industrial park and is concerned about water use, decreased community space, noise, smell and electricity use. 

Carr said he would relocate if the rezoning was completed.

“The fact that my grandkids play there in my backyard. I have a trampoline and I have a play structure. I have bees and fruit trees,” he said. “I can’t see me staying there if they put an industrial park in there. I’m gonna lose maybe $100,000 by property value by getting away from it.”

As a former science teacher, Carr said he is not opposed to alternative energy or biodiesel. He already uses alternative energy from solar panels on his house to an electric mower, snowblower and bicycle. But he thinks the current location would not be a good idea. 

“Why don’t they find a location where there’s no problems, put somebody in there and then expand to other locations?” Carr said. “There’s no reason for them to take 200 acres of prime land.” 

Lott said the city encourages the public, including students, to submit comments about the rezoning. 

The rezoning will be discussed at the next commission meeting, Riebold stated in the email, which is scheduled for at 10 a.m. next Thursday at the Port’s office, 302 N. Mill St, Colfax.