Port Westward Development

This year will determine the future of Port Westward and the impacts to those in our community who live nearby.

NEXT Renewable Fuels is seeking local, state, and federal permits for a proposal to build one of the world’s largest biofuel refineries in Clatskanie’s backyard. As longtime residents of the area, we want to directly address the unsubstantiated claims Christopher Efird (NEXT’s chairman) has offered about NEXT’s impact on our communities. In our experience NEXT’s glowing presentations neglect and misconstrue the many serious concerns our local citizens, businesses, and organizations have expressed.

Most importantly, nearly all of the landowners and farmers neighboring the proposed site are strongly opposed to this project, including the Beaver Drainage Improvement Company (BDIC). The Beaver Drainage District manages sensitive wetlands and drainages throughout the district where this project is proposed and has commented to the Army Corps that NEXT’s project has serious flaws. Additionally, nearly 600 local citizens and over 100 businesses (and quickly growing) have signed a petition in opposition. NEXT has failed to publicly acknowledge local concerns, while insisting they have local support. Furthermore, we feel it is our local government’s responsibility to elevate our citizens’ concerns. We urge our public officials to facilitate an in-depth conversation with NEXT and its permitting agencies instead of rushing the permitting process without due diligence.

NEXT has also skirted the community’s questions regarding Christopher Efird’s involvement with an abandoned refinery in Odessa, Washington that left an entire community reeling from unpaid debts and taxes, laid off workers, and a hazardous mess of toxic chemicals forcing an EPA cleanup. After learning about the involvement of NEXT officials in the failed Odessa, WA project, the Port of Longview turned down Efird and his predecessor, Lou Soumas, when they approached that community for a similar project. Now, Columbia County may let NEXT obtain land use permits without adequate information regarding the company, the impacts of the project, and the real capacity of the area’s rail and water drainage infrastructure. In our opinion, good references are a base level requirement for doing business, and a third-party evaluation of the Odessa disaster should be mandatory. Trusting NEXT’s perspective on this issue is wholly unsuitable.

It should be made clear, if this project paves over nearly 600 acres of prime farmland for the proposed industrial site and wetland mitigation, we will never get it back. Surrounding areas will become degraded by water and air pollution from the process of refining seed oil or animal fat into diesel. At a time when farmland is daily disappearing to development and urban growth, we should be holding on for dear life to our prized resource. You can’t make soils like these, you just can’t! They have formed over thousands of years and have supported our communities for hundreds. These soils are far more valuable in addressing our planet’s most pressing issues than a biofuel refinery. Not to mention, if we continue this trend, outside corporations like this Houston-based company will own, alter, and manage more and more of our local land as they squeeze out our community.

Perhaps the most critical concern is the unsuitable geographic nature of Port Westward for industrial development. PGE’s facility proves even a relatively small development wreaks havoc on dike roads and surrounding infrastructure. Liquefiable soils, pervasive “boil points” along the dikes, and the highest subsidence (sinking) rate of soil along the Columbia River makes this proposal dangerous. Given its proximity to critical wild habitats and tidally influenced waterways, recent and predicted earthquake activity could prove catastrophic. Our endangered populations are stressed enough. In our opinion, Port Westward needs projects that are more aligned with the character of the land and its deeply integrated agricultural community.

There is much more to explore here before any decision is rendered, and deeper questions about whether Oregon should base its “renewable” fuel future at Port Westward at all. We want to be clear: we are not against renewable diesel, and we are not anti-jobs or -tax revenues. We are against NEXT’s proposal for where and how they want to operate. There is a safer, more dependable way to build local economy and reduce emissions, and we look forward to having that conversation after NEXT’s proposal is off the table.

Jasmine and Brandon Schilling are members of the group Save Port Westward. They can be reached at Saveportwestward@gmail.com. For more information, see https://www.facebook.com/portwestward/

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