Environmental groups are raising more concerns about the background of people proposing a $1.25 billion oil refinery and a propane terminal at the Port of Longview.
Columbia Riverkeeper recently released state and federal documents detailing the ill-fated history of an Odessa, Wash., company, TransMessis Columbia Plateau, which was run by the same people involved in Waterside Energy, the company proposing the Longview refinery and propane terminal.
In November 2013, TransMessis took over the $4.3 million biodiesel plant which is owned by the Odessa Public Development Authority but had been vacant for more than year. After cleaning up the facility, TransMessis starting producing biodiesel there in January 2014, but shut down the plant five months later when falling oil prices undercut the renewable energy market. TransMessis fell $200,000 behind on its rent, abruptly laid off 28 employees in June 2014 and left behind a legacy of chemical waste, according to the OPDA and documents presented by Riverkeeper.
“It was a monetary and environmental fiasco,” Linda Horst of Kelso said at Tuesday’s Port of Longview meeting. “We cannot let these people ruin our town the way they did in Odessa, and I urge you to send them packing,” she told port commissioners.
“What happened in Odessa could easily happen here,” said Sandra Davis, who also commented at the port meeting.
An inspection of the Odessa plant last March found that TransMessis left behind a 15,000 gallon methanol tank; a 7,000 gallon glycerin tank; several leaking tanks and totes; unsecured/open chemical containers; and incompatible chemicals stored next to one another, according U.S Environmental Protection Agency. EPA estimates that the final cleanup costs will be about $580,000.
The company also left behind considerable debt, including $200,000 in unpaid rent to the OPDA, $8,809 in unpaid rent to a private fire suppression company and $6,544 in unpaid state taxes. A seed company also is suing TransMessis for nonpayment of $1.6 million in canola seed.
Damon Pistulka was CEO of TransMesisis and now is a project manager for Waterside Energy. In addition to Pistulka, Lou Soumas and Chris Efird were directors for TransMessis’ parent company. Soumas is now the CEO of Waterside and Efird is Waterside’s executive chairman.
Pistulka said by phone Tuesday he was never made aware of any the EPA’s findings and that the company has never received any citation or violation notice from the agency.
“When we left the facility it was in better shape than it ever had been from a cleanliness standpoint and from an operations standpoint,” he said. TransMessis spent “hundreds of thousands” of dollars cleaning up the mess from the plant’s former tenant, Pistulka said.
He added that TransMessis had nothing to do with the plant after July 2014, and the inspection didn’t occur until several months after the company already had left.
“People make it sound like we were out hunting for a deal to take advantage of these people,” Pistulka said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Columbia Riverkeeper attorney Miles Johnson lamented TransMessis’ “willingness ... to walk away and leave these hazardous chemicals without proper containment in a place where people could get hurt. ... The inability of these people to run a very small, uncomplicated operation bodes poorly for their ability to run a much larger, more complicated facility in Longview.”
Soumas said environmental groups are trying to spin the Odessa experience to bolster their opposition to the Longview project. He added that Waterside is working with the Port of Longview to vet the project.
Port Commissioners had little to say about the documents presented in advance to them by Riverkeeper. Commissioners Doug Averett and Jeff Wilson declined to comment. Commissioner Bob Bagaason said the documents were given to the port staff working on the Waterside refinery and terminal projects.
“Documents like these always bring up questions in your mind,” Bagaason said,declining to elaborate.