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Methanol plant site

Northwest Innovation Works $2 billion methanol plant would be built at the north end of the Port of Kalama. 

In a big step for Northwest Innovation Works, the Cowlitz County hearings examiner Monday approved two major shoreline permits the company needs to build its $1.8 billion methanol plant at the Port of Kalama.

Hearing Examiner Mark Scheibmeir approved a substantial shoreline development permit and a conditional use permit for the project, but he rejected the company’s request to use part of its docks as a lay berth for cargo unrelated to methanol.

Scheibmeir’s decision will now go to the state Department of Ecology, which has the final say. Staff at Cowlitz County Building & Planning Department expect Ecology’s decision in early April.

A shoreline permit would be a major step for the project, which Northwest Innovation Works first proposed three years ago. The project is expected to create nearly 200 permanent jobs and 1,000 construction jobs and generate millions of dollars of tax revenue. The project would convert natural gas into methanol, which would be shipped to Asia for the manufacture of plastics.

The decision came after a three-day shoreline hearing in January. Hundreds of people chimed in to support or oppose the project.

As the hearing drew to a close and after, proponents modified the proposal to address Scheibmeir’s concerns about the project’s impact on the environment. Port of Kalama offered to set aside up to 95 acres of land for conservation (up from the 60 acres discussed previously). And Northwest Innovation Works offered to move a significant portion of the project away from the Columbia River shoreline. Scheibmeir’s approval would require the proponents to move forward with those revisions.

His decision also requires Northwest Innovation to use ultra-low emissions technology to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Northwest also must not discharge treated wastewater into the Columbia River.

In his 100-page decision, Scheibmeir outlines several additional conditions of the permit, such as requiring creation of 10 engineered log jams to improve fish habitat. Scheibmeir also is requiring docked vessels to use electricity from the shore rather than running ship engines to generate on-vessel electricity.

“We are currently reviewing the hearing examiner’s decision. Based on our initial review, it is clear that the hearing examiner has imposed tough conditions on the project,” said Northwest Innovations President Vee Godley in a prepared statement.

Opponents had asked Scheibmeir to consider the plant’s effects on climate change from greenhouse gas emissions, but he said that is outside his authority. Opponents blasted his decision. Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity said in a press release that they “expect to appeal if Ecology ignores critical concerns like climate change.”

“The county’s approval ignored the methanol refinery’s climate pollution, susceptibility to earthquakes and impacts on Columbia River salmon,” said Miles Johnson, Clean Water Attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper.

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