More discussion is expected concerning a lease for NEXT at the Port of Columbia County during a town hall set for Aug. 6 at the Columbia City Community Hall.
The community turned out for a presentation and discussion about an upcoming lease with NEXT Renewable Fuels, Inc., expressing both concerns and support for the new biofuels facility to be located at Port Westward in Clatskanie.
At 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 24, the Port of Columbia County held a work session at the Columbia Learning Center in the St. Helens Public Library, 375 S. 18th Street in St. Helens. The location, different from where typical port meetings are held, was to ensure there was enough room for everyone, as the community has expressed a lot of interest in the lease, according to Gina Sisco, Public Relations Representative for the port.
Bob Salisbury, Legal Counsel for the port, and Lou Soumas, NEXT Renewable Fuels President and Director, led a presentation about the lease, expected to take effect at Port Westward in Clatskanie in the spring of 2020. The presentation covered the general timeline for the lease, the lease’s security deposit, general uses outlined in the lease, and the hazardous substances review process. Port commissioners commented throughout the presentation, and the public was allowed to comment at the end.
The full presentation is available online on the port’s website, but during the presentation, Salisbury and Soumas answered a few questions from port commissioners. Salisbury said that the project can be canceled until the Project Approval Decision, estimated to be in the spring of 2020. Commissioner Nancy Ward asked to clarify if the cancellation could be done by either the port or by NEXT. Salisbury answered that only NEXT could choose to cancel.
Port Commissioner Chris Iverson commented about the potential fall-out of an environmental disaster. “It should be on NEXT’s dime,” Iverson said, if things don’t go well, such as if there is a big environmental clean-up. “We have been burned once on that.”
Salisbury also stressed different parts of permitted uses, outlined in the contract. In red, outlined in the power point presentation is that “The Project will be limited to processing only renewable feedstocks, received by oceangoing vessels, limited to manifest rail as agreed between Port and Lessee, and no unit trains.”
Also in the presentation, Salisbury stressed that products include “used cooking oils; animal fats and tallows; yellow, white and brown greases; and virgin seed and vegetable oils.” It states that products from the project include renewable diesel and renewable propane, and that “propane is to be retained and used on-site as process gas.”
It was a common theme throughout the presentation that the project would not use the rail, and that propane must be used on-site. Virgin palm oil is not an approved use, the project states.
The presentation also includes a map of the project. The map is not finalized, as Soumas said that the pipeline indicated on the map was going to change because of issues with PGE, because PGE leases some land from the port, and the pipeline runs through their land. The pipeline is also going to stay about 2,000 feet away from the river because of seismic issues, Soumas said.
After the presentation, the floor was open for public comment.
Greg Hinkelman, Clatskanie City Manager, said he was supportive of the project, because on a macro level, Clatskanie needs a diversity of jobs, it can’t be a one-industry town, and they need bigger industries to come in.
Bob Brajcich, Clatskanie Mayor, said he supported the project, that it was perfect for Clatskanie, and he saw this as a balance between creating jobs and protecting the environment.
Several county residents expressed concerns, however.
Brady Preheim, of St. Helens said he was concerned about the port not vetting the company enough.
“Your responsibility is to do due diligence and vet this company as much as you can,” Preheim said, saying he believed the port has often not vetted companies enough in the past. He also said he felt that two weeks was not enough time to approve the lease, and the port needed to have a fund in place for cleanup “whether that’s in five years or a hundred years,” because the plant would eventually close and need to be cleaned up.
Paulette Lichatowich of Columbia City, and a former port commissioner, said that after looking over the contract, “I don’t see the mention of the use agreements. And to go ahead with this project and not have those dock and rail agreements between Global, PGE and NEXT tied down seems very foolish, because we know that it’s taken a long time for the port to negotiate with PGE for dock usage and there’s very limited space.”
Lenny Peterson of Scappoose said that the project “looks good on paper,” but that he thought “there’s still some areas that need to be improved in the lease agreement.” Peterson said he thought the port should increase the required security deposit, because he saw that inflation was not taken into account. He also said the lease should require NEXT to add a minimum amount of jobs to the county.
At the end of the work session, Iverson said he heard “really good input. I appreciate it. I appreciate constructive criticism.”
Due to the meeting being a work session, no action on the lease was taken.
A previous informational meeting about the lease was held on July 25 at the Clatskanie Cultural Center.
There will be one final meeting on August 7, a regular port commission meeting, where the lease will be on the agenda as a resolution. According to Sisco, that meeting will also likely be held at the Columbia Learning Center, rather than the typical port location, due to interest from the community.
In other port news, the port had a brief re-election at the beginning of the meeting to change certain port positions. Previously, Chip Bubl had been elected as Vice President of the port, but port commissioners realized port by-laws stipulate that port commissioners elected for either President or Vice President must have served on the commission for at least one year.
Due to this stipulation, Robert Keyser was elected as Vice President and Chip Bubl was elected as Treasurer. All other port positions remain the same.