The Daily News editorial board was fortunate to spend about an hour meeting with representatives from the proposed Pacific Northwest Fertilizer project yesterday.
They explained the proposed project in detail, addressing environmental concerns, benefits to the community and why they chose to voluntarily go through the state’s environmental impact statement process.
After the discussion, we still see this as a good project for the community and we hope to see the plant built at the Mint Farm Industrial Park.
As with any large scale project, many questions and mistaken perceptions abound. Even though we’ve met with PCF in the past, we asked again – why Longview?
Northwest farmers are buying nitrogen-based fertilizer from places such as Trinidad, the southernmost island in the Caribbean, just off the coast of Venezuela. As you can imagine, anything shipped from Trinidad to the United States is going to cost more than products manufactured closer to the end user.
PCF’s aim is to build a plant to produce fertilizer and ship it via truck throughout the Pacific Northwest to regional wholesalers and distributors in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. The goal is to be more efficient than companies that manufacture the product and ship it in from distant places, thus capturing significant market share.
The fertilizer PCF will produce is the same product being shipped in and used in the agricultural industry for years. The target is customers growing wheat, lentils, potatoes and other seasonal harvest crops. The fertilizer is applied directly to the soil, not to existing plants or trees, so it would not be used for apple trees or other similar crops.
The proposed project is in its beginning stage and the company volunteered to go through a full environmental impact statement process when it could have gone through a similar, yet less exhaustive, permitting process.
Given the state of Washington’s recent record with other projects seeking permits, we asked why volunteer to face the “Not in My Back Yard” protesters who will protest every step of the way?
The short answer is the company doesn’t expect near the level of issues or complexity other projects have faced and it hopes to have the draft environmental impact statement completed by the end of March 2018. They voiced the need to be transparent and show the people who support the project and the people who oppose the project that the plans are sound and the required permits should be approved.
From a legal standpoint, if a lesser process to gain permits was used, it could be challenged in court, then PCF could be forced to start over using the full EIS process. Instead of risking going through court, they figure volunteering for the EIS from the start makes sense.
Early on in our meeting, PCF representatives mentioned the need to clear up “mistaken perceptions” about the project. “Mistaken perceptions” have plagued other projects seeking permits and are already causing PCF issues.
One of the strategies project opponents use is to twist and bend the facts to meet their needs. We’ve seen this tactic used repeatedly with the Millennium Bulk Terminals and the Kalama Methanol projects.
Misinformation becomes so pervasive that many people believe it. The coal dust issue is a popular piece of misinformation we hear about all the time. TDN repeatedly has written that coal dust won’t be a problem, the EIS said so, the 30 to 40 coal trains per week that roll through Kelso leave no dust – but folks just don’t believe it.
Opponents are challenging PCF with issues such as why do you plan to use old technology? Old technology sounds bad doesn’t it?
PCF explained the Haber-Bosch method they use for producing the fertilizer is a time-tested and efficient method. No other method is as good. Opponents ask about using an electrolysis of water process, positioning PCF’s method as outdated. PCF says the old methods are proved, efficient and safe.
The electrolysis of water process is indeed a newer method of production, but is highly inefficient and very expensive, using a heavy power load to run. Using a process because it’s newer, that would cost more and use more electricity isn’t good business they said.
Anytime natural gas is used as a “feed stock” opponents scare citizens by insinuating or telling them there is the risk of an explosion. The company is being asked questions about a pipeline extension going over or under the Cowlitz River and near existing homes. This is not true and was never in the project plans.
The company will need an extension off the existing Williams pipeline to the plant, but that short extension is south of the Mint Farm, not over or under the Cowlitz River or near homes.
The misinformation campaign already has begun and now that the permitting process is getting underway, we expect the false claims and protests will ramp up dramatically.
We encourage you to bring your concerns to the city of Longview, the Cowlitz Economic Development Council, Pacific Coast Fertilizer or other reputable parties to get accurate information. Or attend one of two open-house style public scoping meetings that take place from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m. today at the Cowlitz County Event Center.
Once again we have a chance to grow the local economy, add new jobs, increase the tax base and prosper as a community.
As this process unfolds let’s hold Pacific Coast Fertilizer accountable for what they say and do. Let’s not let others hijack the project with false facts.