By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- A bill to classify giant cane as a noxious weed is needed to protect Oregon from what some say is a highly invasive plant, according to testimony before a House committee March 19.
"House Bill 2813 is the only way the potential invasion of arundo donax (or giant cane) can be prevented," said Billy Don Robinson, vice president of the Native Plant Society of Oregon.
Portland General Electric is looking at giant cane as a biomass fuel source for its coal-fired power plant in Boardman.
The company has 90 acres in production near Boardman under a test to determine if the plant can be grown successfully in Oregon and whether it will sufficiently power the plant.
The company has a test burn planned in 2014. It has been experimenting with giant cane for two years.
HB2813 would essentially ban its commercial production in Oregon.
Speaking before the House Energy and Environment Committee March 19, Robinson and retired Oregon State University extension agent Susan Aldrich-Markham said the plant poses a catastrophic risk to Oregon's environmental health.
"If arundo donax is grown in Oregon, it is absolutely inevitable that it will eventually escape from cultivation and become the same environmental disaster here that it has become in California and other states," Aldrich-Markham said.
Brendan McCarthy, government affairs representative for PGE, disputed the assertions, saying, to date, the plant "has not shown any invasive tendencies."
"Based on what we've learned so far, and the controls we have in place, (through) the Department of Ag and our own growing conditions established in Morrow County, we don't believe this bill is currently necessary," McCarthy said.
The committee took no action on the bill.