Ciner Enterprises has committed to using local union labor to build and operate a state-of-the-art soda ash export terminal at the Port of Longview.
Specific job numbers are still guesses as the parties continue to work with engineering firms to finish design plans for the $125 million facility. But the project would take about two years to build, and it would support family-wage construction jobs during that span, according to a fact sheet Ciner shared this week with The Daily News.
The company will negotiate a letter of agreement with the Longview-Kelso Building and Construction Trades Council, according to the document. The council serves as an umbrella organization for a range of local trade and construction worker unions.
“It’s still early, but we’re optimistic and excited,” Mike Bridges, president of the council, said Friday in an interview.
Bridges said he met with a number of representatives involved with the project last week. It’s too soon to estimate how many local jobs the project would create, because the designs are still a work in progress, he said.
Ciner said it will also use members of the Longview-based International Longshore and Warehouse Union 21 to operate the terminal. (It would be nearly impossible to avoid using union longshoremen under the union’s contract with the port.)
The export facility could support around 20 permanent full-time jobs when it is complete, according to an early draft project proposal. That number was a preliminary estimate and could change.
The willingness to use local union labor to construct and operate the terminal could help Ciner avoid repeating what some view as missteps that occurred when the EGT grain terminal was built.
EGT and the longshore union battled in court in 2011 over whether the grain exporter was required to use longshoremen under the fuzzy language of a 30-year lease agreement with the port. The company also brought in outside laborers to build the $200 million project when the local unemployment rate among tradesmen stood at around 45 percent.
“That’s not going to happen again on my watch,” Bridges said. “The goal is to get as many local folks working on a project as we can, because those dollars stay local and help all of the other businesses in town.”
With the design plans still in flux, Ciner and the port have yet to agree on the major terms of a lease.
Preliminary drawings indicate that the terminal would feature a swiveling quadrant ship loader — the first ship loader of its kind used for soda ash export in the United States, according to the company.
A chute would swivel back and forth along a semicircular track as soda ash is deposited evenly throughout a ship to avoid placing stress on its hull. The system can load a ship in just seven hours.
The terminal would have a permitted capacity of 8 million tons per year. Initial volumes would start around 2 million tons per year, according to the fact sheet.
The project design also includes a new rail loop with car-in-motion unloading technology, meaning the railcars carrying soda ash would not need to stop before unloading the commodity into a pit. Soda ash would then be transferred to a warehouse, where it would stored until it is transferred to ship using a conveyance system.
One of the biggest unanswered questions about the project is how much of its $125 million price tag is related to the purchase and installation of the ship loader.
The loader and conveyance system — which would both be custom-made — would be manufactured off-site and assembled at the port’s old Berth 4 deepwater terminal. The site has been empty nearly three decades since Continental Grain abandoned it.
Construction is expected to start in early 2019, according to the fact sheet, but the project is still facing a number of hurdles.
The project would still need to undergo an environmental review in order to receive a slew of important local and state permits. Major requirements include a shoreline conditional use and shoreline substantial development permits, and a federal water quality certification issued through the state Department of Ecology.
The port is also facing a legal threat from the American Natural Soda Ash Corporation. The group — a joint venture among the nation’s top three soda ash exporters — alleges the port and Ciner Enterprises were barred from signing an exclusivity agreement because a subsidiary, Ciner Resources, Inc., is an ANSAC member. The port and Ciner Enterprises have denied any wrongdoing.
If the deal with Ciner falls through for some reason, the port has reserved the right to purchase the company’s in-water facility design documents and related permitting approvals, according to the terms of the parties’ exclusivity agreement.