Longview-based Chinook Ventures is facing possible eviction by state regulators following repeated environmental violations in its clean up of the the former Reynolds Metals Co. site.
However, a Chinook official says the company plans to file its first formal environmental impact plan next month, which state agency officials say will allow the company to stay at the site.
Chinook plans to finish a draft of the state-mandated plan detailing the environmental consequences of its work along the Columbia River next week, then submit it in July, said Pat Patterson, Chinook director of operations.
Without a plan, the state Department of Natural Resources could yank away its aquatic lands lease for Alcoa Inc., which is leasing the 416-acre site to Chinook, a mineral import/export firm west of Longview. DNR governs land surrounding waterways, and the action would be similar to a landlord evicting a tenant.
Chinook bought the buildings on the site of the former Reynolds aluminum plant out of bankruptcy court in 2004. The site had been contaminated since Reynolds built the smelter in 1941, and Chinook officials said they planned to clean up the 416-acre site and build a private port.
Pennsylvania-based Alcoa Inc. bought the site from Reynolds in 2001.
DNR last month sent a letter to Alcoa saying it was in default because Chinook did not have permits for much of the work the company was doing. However, because the company plans to file the environmental impact plan, DNR likely won't force Chinook to leave, agency spokeswoman Jane Chavey said.
Most companies file a comprehensive environmental plan before they start working at a site, but Chinook officials were unaware of state requirements, said Alan Bogner, regional lead of the governor's office of regulatory assistance.
"Chinook was probably a little naive and didn't necessarily understand the process," Bogner said.
State, county and federal regulators have penalized Chinook multiple times, including:
• A $92,000 fine from the Southwest Washington Clean Air Agency last year for failing to control chemical emissions.
• A $150,000 fine from the state Department of Ecology for failing to obtain permits to store and transport chemicals.
• A $40,000 fine from Ecology this year for spilling between 25 and 50 cubic yards of petroleum coke into the Columbia River.
• An order from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last year to stop all work in the Columbia River after installing piles to build a dock in the water and modifying a conveyor system without proper permits.
• An order from Cowlitz County last year to stop work around the water for failing to obtain shoreline permits.
Following the petcoke spill in February, Chinook hired an independent investigator, Portland-based Marine Systems Inc., to determine the cause. In a report released in April, Marine Systems determined Chinook had failed to properly cover its conveyor belt while off-loading the petcoke and the company had improperly stored and disposed of waste and hazardous materials on the site.
That worries Columbia RiverKeeper, the Portland-based environmental group filed a lawsuit in federal court against Chinook in November alleging violations of the Clean Water Act.
Brett VandenHeuvel, the agency's executive director, said he questions whether Chinook is trying to comply with environmental regulations.
"It's difficult to believe there's a change of heart," VandenHeuvel said Thursday.
Chinook's actions have been unfair to other waterfront businesses and ports, he added.
"When the agencies don't enforce the law, it creates an uneven playing field."
Chinook has ceased its petroleum coal, or petcoke, and cement export businesses since the February spill, Patterson said, but it's currently conducting other permitted activities. Chinook is currently off-loading coal on rail cars for Weyerhaeuser Co. and is shipping and receiving alumina, the raw product used to manufacture aluminum, Patterson said.
If the company obtains its permits, it could start operating fully and cleanly by the end of the year, he said.
"These are products that are traditionally handled on the waterfront at other locations," Patterson said.