Seneca Has Complied on Taxes, EnvironmentJune 27, 2016
Christian Wihtol’s June 6 article regarding Seneca’s biomass power facility is another in his long line of articles about our state-of-the-art renewable energy facility. Mr. Wihtol’s line of articles have included questions about our environmental compliance, the power contract we signed with EWEB, and now our payment of taxes, both property and income. Unfortunately, Mr. Wihtol’s reporting includes blatant half-truths and hyperbole that attempt to paint the Seneca power plant in a very unfavorable light. While this line of storytelling might help to sell newspapers, it is doing the readers of this paper a disservice.
With specific regard to the property tax case mentioned in Mr. Wihtol’s most recent article, the case revolves around the correct way to value industrial property in Oregon. Seneca chose not to comment on the specifics of this case because it is pending before a judge as we speak, the record in the case is sealed and we felt it inappropriate to use the paper to try to influence the court. This being said, we did explain to Mr. Wihtol that the case would have a final decision in the next couple of months, that after the decision we could speak freely about the case and that the article might be more appropriately written at that time. Mr. Wihtol instead chose to report now and use the uncertainty surrounding the property tax case to bring into question Seneca’s motives.
Separately, Mr. Wihtol’s article made a passing reference to an “ongoing” separate dispute between Seneca and the Oregon Department of Energy regarding a tax credit that the Department miscalculated. In fact, on May 23rd (a full 2-weeks before Mr. Wihtol’s article ran) the State had filed with the court a corrected tax certificate in favor of Seneca and a final judgment had already been submitted in the case on June 2nd and was on file with the court when the June 6th article was published. This was the result of the Department of Energy’s own action correcting their previous error, which essentially over-calculated our tax liability by $1,000,000. Seneca will and has always paid the taxes that we are legally obligated to pay, but like most taxpayers we won’t overlook a million-dollar miscalculation of our taxes. Mr. Wihtol did not ask Seneca for any comment on this case prior to his article being published. Had he done his due diligence we could have helped him understand that the case was essentially complete.
Mr. Wihtol has a habit of using loaded adjectives and adverbs to describe our facility. None was more blatant than the use of the phrase “belching plumes of steam.” The use of the word “belch” in the context of steam (aka water) could be none other than a deliberate attempt to vilify. Similarly, in referencing compliance with our environmental permits, he states that we “by and large” have complied. This is a blatant misstatement, again intended to elicit uncertainty about the facility. The fact is that we have always complied with our permits as verified through annual source tests and reporting to LRAPA as well as an unannounced on-site audit and inspection conducted by EPA Region 10 whereby we received an exceptional review. In fact we are proud to say that our facility is one of the cleanest biomass facilities on the planet.
With regard to the tax cases, there were a number of Federal and State tax credits and incentive programs that were offered and relied upon by Seneca when it made its investment in the production of green power. Our state and nation have made a decision to invest in a renewable power portfolio as we continue to move away from fossil based fuels. In order for this to happen public incentives will be necessary as the economics of green power don’t usually work on their own. Seneca made the decision to invest tens of millions of dollars in our local community during the depths of the worst recession in recent history. We did this based on our desire to diversify our business and continue our long, proud tradition of sustainability and local investment. In making this decision, Seneca obtained prior commitments from the state regarding certain tax programs and also relied on the law as it pertains to property valuation. While the article paints the picture that Seneca is trying to change the rules, the facts are that Seneca is simply trying to ensure that the law is followed by the state.
Finally, it’s disappointing knowing we opened up our doors to Mr. Wihtol with a full tour of our facilities and presentation of facts on June 1 only to find such a misleading article printed on June 6.
Todd Payne, president and CEO of Seneca Sawmill Company