CLATSKANIE — Students dug into fresh soil Tuesday morning as they planted lettuce, carrots, strawberries, flowers and other plants in the Clatskanie Elementary School garden.
“It’s really about getting the kids in the dirt,” said Natasha Parvey-Leskowich, community coordinator for NEXT Renewable Fuels Oregon, which hosted a learning event in the community where they hope to one day build a renewable diesel plant.
NEXT planned the two-day outreach effort for elementary and sixth-grade students to learn about the surrounding wetlands and native plants, as well as revamp the school’s courtyard garden, said Krystal Irby, a former science teacher and environmental consultant with Stewardship Solutions on behalf of NEXT.
Clatskanie Building Supply donated farm and ranch equipment, with NEXT supplying plants and soil, said NEXT spokesperson Michael Hinrichs.
People are also reading…
“It’s the start of a longer partnership,” Hinrichs said.
During the pandemic, the garden at the school went mostly untended, Irby said.
“This idea came from Earth Day, so we reached out to the school and basically said, ‘You don’t have to prepare anything, and we can come to teach them about science,’” Irby said.
Irby led the children through wetland education, teaching them about how important the ecological feature is for plants and water treatment.
“Wetlands act as a filter for our water,” Irby told the group of students as they used small wetland models to show how the water travels.
Hands-on demonstrations like these help kids understand farming and plant health, Parvey-Leskowich said.
“It connects the kids to where their food comes from,” she said.
Hinrichs said the event was part of an outreach effort to schools, and they have future plans to host similar events at schools in Rainier.
The company’s proposed renewable fuel facility recently got several permit approvals from county and state departments to eventually build at the Port Westward Industrial Park.
Parvey-Leskowich said she’s lived in Columbia County for several years and would like to see the clean energy plant bring economic progress to Clatskanie.
“It’s green jobs,” she said.
Those who oppose the facility have said a renewable diesel plant actually would disrupt farmland and emit more greenhouse gases. At an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality public hearing for NEXT’s air quality permit, resident Stuart Gray said he wanted the department to look deeper into the total compounded effect of the facility’s emissions before making a decision.
“Once this plant is in operation, it will be in our sensitive lands and polluting our air for decades,” Gray told the department April 28.
Public comment for the air quality permit will stay open until 5 p.m. May 26. Information on how to submit comment can be found on the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Projects website.