The Port of Longview is in exclusive talks with Ciner Enterprises, a subsidiary of the Istanbul, Turkey-based Ciner Group, to develop a multi-million-dollar natural soda ash export terminal.
Site planning and negotiations are still in early stages, according to the company, and it’s unclear how exactly much money Ciner intends to invest or how many local jobs a successful deal would create. More details are expected to be released to the public on Wednesday at the port's bi-monthly commissioners' meeting.
While costs and jobs numbers are guesses at this point, Ciner Enterprises is considering “a significant investment in the port,” the Atlanta-based subsidiary said in a statement provided to The Daily News. The new terminal — which would replace a constellation of decrepit grain silos at Berth 4 — would include ship loaders, new rail track, warehouse space and associated product conveyors. Ciner (pronounced JIN-ner) also would pay all permitting costs for the project.
The old grain terminal at Berth 4 has sat empty since Continental Grain abandoned the port in the late 1980s.
The terminal would eventually allow Ciner to export up to 8 million tons of soda ash annually from its underground mine and production facility in Green River, Wyoming using 1.5-mile-long unit trains. Several unit trains a day could eventually be needed to bring soda ash to the site, but in Longview the trains would not cross any city streets or roadways.
Soda ash is the trade name for sodium carbonate, an essential raw material used in the manufacturing of glass, detergents, chemicals and some food products, such as baking soda. Soda ash is not explosive or toxic, and it’s considered “generally safe” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
U.S. soda ash exports have increased 26 percent over the last decade, up from 5.1 million tons in 2007 to 6.9 million tons in 2017, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Domestic soda ash production reached a record-high 12 million tons last year, according to USGS. Global demand for soda ash is expected to grow at more than 2 percent per year, or by about 1 million tons annually, according to market analysts.
Ciner also supplies soda ash to several Pacific Northwest companies, including the Owens-Illinois glass container manufacturing plant in Kalama.
The potential deal unexpectedly came to light at a port commissioners’ meeting nearly two weeks ago when Chris Douville, president of the American Natural Soda Ash Corporation, asked the port to reconsider its decision to abruptly end talks on the organization's own $125 million proposed export terminal. ANSAC filed a public records request with the port on Jan. 5 seeking documents related to Berth 4, which revealed an exclusivity agreement signed with Ciner on Dec. 14 that prohibited negotiations with other parties.
Ciner — which is currently an ANSAC member — is paying the port $10,000 per month in exclusivity fees, according to the agreement. Any changes to the company’s membership would be formalized and communicated in accordance with ANSAC rules, Ciner said in its statement.
Under the year-long agreement, the port and Ciner will work collaboratively to arrive at a final site plan and major terms of a ground lease by April 13. As of mid-December, the parties had not definitely agreed to the dimensions, boundaries or area of the tract of land the terminal would inhabit, according to the agreement. But a tentative premises drawing was attached to the document, indicating the parties have already made significant headway.
If the deal falls through for some reason, the port has reserved the right to purchase Ciner’s in-water facility design documents and related permitting approvals.
Representatives of the Longview-based International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union Local 21 are waiting to learn more about the potential deal before weighing in. The Port of Longview has an agreement with Local 21 that requires businesses leasing port property to use Local 21 labor to move cargo.
"At this time we don't have a position until we see what's being offered," Local 21 President Billy Roberts said in an interview Monday.