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Methanol supporters and opponents gear up for hearing

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Northwest Innovation Works

Northwest Innovation Works says it would build its plant on vacant Port of Kalama property north (left, in this aerial photo) of the Steelscape mill, the white building in center right.

The debate over methanol in Kalama is beginning to heat up as both sides prepare for a hearing Tuesday on Northwest Innovation Works’ proposed plant.

Proponents of the methanol plant have formed a new group, called Citizens for a Green Economy, to mobilize supporters. The group took out advertisements in The Daily News this week, which were paid for by the Cowlitz Economic Development Council.

“In the last 15 years I’ve seen so many jobs lost … and it’s just been frustrating to me to see the rampant increase in drug, alcohol and behavioral problems. The number one reason for that is a poor economy,” said Brian Magnuson, spokesman for Citizens for a Green Economy and owner of Cascade Networks.

Magnuson said he was spurred to action when he realized the draft EIS could “make or break” the methanol project. He joined forces with CEDC and JH Kelly to form the group. Over the last few weeks they’ve gained endorsements from about 150 individuals, businesses, groups and state legislators. And they’re hosting informational sessions this weekend, plus a rally on Tuesday before the hearing to build support.

“I think the bottom line we’re getting sick and tired of having a bunch of people from outside this county come in and try to dictate what happens in our community,” said Rob Harris, member of the CEDC and vice president of Longview-based JH Kelly.

JH Kelly itself has high stakes in the project as it could be the contractor to build the $1.8 billion plant, which is expected to create 1,000 construction jobs and 200 permanent jobs. But Harris said his interest in the project goes beyone his company.

“Whether we build this plant or not, we want to see this project in our community,” Harris said.

But some opponents believe the Citizens for a Green Economy group is a thinly-veiled attempt from Northwest Innovation Works to garner last-minute support.

“I think the CEDC is using the green name to their advantage and I’m just wondering how green this project is,” said Sandra Davis, a member of Longview-based Landowners and Citizens for a Green Economy.

Methanol opponents are building their own momentum, making yard signs, passing out flyers, hosting phone banks along with hosting an informational session Sunday in Kalama.

“There’s an impressive number of residents in Kalama who are self-organizing to protect their community (from) this project,” said Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, organizer with Columbia Riverkeeper.

And it’s likely Tuesday’s event will draw people from across the region, because of the Northwest Innovation’s proposals to build similar methanol plants in Tacoma and Clatskanie.

“The draft EIS is being analyzed by citizens across the region. Because Northwest is proposing three facilities, it is piquing the interest of three times as many communities as it would have if it was just Kalama,” Zimmer-Stucky said.

In Tacoma, about 1,000 people showed up at each scoping hearing for Northwest Innovation Works’ proposed methanol plant there, which would be twice as big as the Kalama facility.

It’s not clear whether the hearing will draw as large of a crowd here, but as a precaution, there will be about 12 police officers and sheriff’s deputies at the hearing, said Kalama Police Chief Randy Gibson.

The hearing on the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed plant will be held March 22 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Kalama High School gym.

The Daily News, Longview, Wash.

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