The Port of St. Helens Board of Commissioners voted in favor of renewing the Northwest Innovation Works (NWIW) lease on Wednesday, Feb. 14.
Port Commissioner Paulette Lichatowich was not present and thereby unable to vote, while the rest of the Port Commissioners all voted in favor. NWIW plans on building a methanol plant in Clatskanie, but the project still needs to go through the state regulatory process. Several people showed up to the board meeting to state their opinions both for and against a future methanol plant.
Executive Director of the Columbia County Economic Team Chuck Daughtry was the first to speak to the port commission ers and said that he and his team strongly support the renewal of the lease. He said the project that is under consideration is proposed to be constructed in two phases, totaling $2 billion for each phase and creating about 200 direct family wage jobs.
“Each phase of the project will produce over $11 million in annual property taxes for local districts. Tax revenues will provide needed capital to invest in local roads, public safety, and other improvements and services to our constituents,” Daughtry said.
“This lease represents a strategic alliance with the highest levels of technological innovation in China, including direct relationships with the Chinese Academy of Science in the Shanghai Advanced Research Institute. There are these relationships that have the potential to augment the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center in Scappoose, attracting many additional members to this initiative. There are extremely positive environmental impacts from this project.”
Daughtry said NWIW will take natural gas and turn it into methanol and thereby create a value added product for export along with 200 family wage jobs.
Mayor of Clatskanie Bob Brajcich also showed up at the board meeting and said he was representing the council and the people of Clatskanie.
“Northwest Innovation is very important to our area. Clatskanie has been dependent on Georgia Pacific for a long time. We’re losing jobs through automation and tax base to the appreciation, and jobs and money for our school is the lifeblood of our community,” Brajcich said.
“Without port expansion, Clatskanie could become a dying community and that’s something that I would dread to see.”
Nancy Ward from Scappoose showed up to ask the Port commissioners not to renew the lease with NWIW.
“You’re going to take raw materials that we could use here to manufacture goods and instead we’re going to ship them to China so they can make goods and sell them back to us. That really just doesn’t make any sense,” Ward said.
“The other point I’d like to make is that obviously we’re many years away from this plant actually coming to fruition. The plant that they’re working on in Kalama will come first. They certainly are further along with that, although they still have a lot of hurdles to get over. I would think in the meantime you could find other suitable tenants that could bring jobs here that could use our raw materials here and provide goods and services and jobs for people who live here.”
According to NWIW, the project in Kalama is currently in the permitting phase. The Daily News reported on Feb. 1, that The Port of Kalama is to conduct a broad environmental review of the $1.8 billion methanol plant, siding with Columbia Riverkeeper, the Centers for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club in concluding that the project’s original environmental impact statement did not adequately assess greenhouse gas emissions.
Meanwhile, NWIW lease an 82-acre empty site in Clatskanie from the Port of St. Helens. The Clatskanie site is zoned heavy industrial and cost NWIW $15,000 a month to lease, according to Port of St. Helens Commissioner Larry Ericksen.
Wrong direction for the climate
Ann Morten from St. Helens stated to the commissioners that she was very against the plant.
“I think that we need to get off fossil fuels and if we aren’t, we aren’t going to be around or our children won’t be around to make the benefits of the jobs that this is going to create,” she said.
Worried about the shipping back and forth to China causing pollution with plastic in the oceans and rivers, Morten also voiced her fear about a Cascadia earthquake causing the methanol to cause a similar effect as an atomic bomb.
She cited trains traveling down to Linnton and Portland carrying flammable material, saying it would take out St. John’s as an example.
“I don’t know how we can go back to the Stone Age. We have to... we have to move on to other forms of energy production and jobs,” Morten said.
The President and Chief Development Officer at NWIW, Vee Godley, who lives in Kalama, Wash. was present to answer questions from opposing residents and to defend the project in Clatskanie.
He recognized that people had a lot of concerns and misunderstandings about the project, offering independent comments and discussions with people that showed up.
Godley clarified to the audience that NWIW uses a Canadian sourced resource, and that Morten’s point is very valid regarding shipments.
“A lot of our resources now are shipped away and not converted into an end use product,” Godley said.
He said that methanol is its own component and that 70 percent of the methanol in the world is used in formaldehyde, which is used in the production of everyday wood products.
“About 25 percent is used in the pharmaceutical industry,” Godley said.
“Our products are focused on materials manufacturing, but the products at the end of the day can be spread across, and right now China does consume 70 percent of the world’s methanol and they are supplying 70 percent of the world’s consumption of various materials via pharmaceutical, be it materials via plastics, be it our jackets that we wear, be it the heart pumps that people have, be it the catheters, be it whatever is manufactured out of synthetic materials.”
Godley said that NWIW strive towards providing a cleaner alternative.
“We have the same goal that everyone does, to get to a renewable future, but you have to take it in steps. Otherwise we stay at a hundred percent dirty while we all talk about having a totally renewable future,” Godley said.
After talking about how NWIW produces their methanol, Godley was questioned from someone in the audience about what happens to the water they use in the process.
“Most of it is lost through the operation for cooling. The little bit that’s left in the process actually becomes part of methanol and then when we distill it, we’d get a little bit more of a by-product - about 400 gallons per minute. We run that through what’s called a zero liquid discharge system, which basically means we ride it right back through the process so we don’t discharge any water back into the environment,” Godley said.
Godley said the Clatskanie project is beneficial from the standpoint that it will be able to capture already developed work product from the Kalama project, and that NWIW can apply that to Clatskanie because the design basis is the same.
“The plant is designed the same here as it is there,” he said.
“We’ve worked through some concerns that we’ve resolved with the Port Westward facility and we really believe that it’s time to start moving forward on that project now.”