Port of Longview commissioners unanimously rejected the proposed Haven Energy propane export terminal Tuesday morning, voicing concerns about safety and true economic impact of the $300 million project.
Commissioners Lou Johnson and Darold Dietz said they would support the project, but not at the proposed 24-acre site near Berth 4. Commissioner Bob Bagaason raised several concerns about the project, but said his no vote ultimately came down to a matter of trust.
“Is this going to be worth that much to the port five years from now when it actually starts operating? I’m not seeing that,” Bagaason said.
Haven’s option to lease Berth 4 expires today. The port does not have plans to extend the lease option.
The vote came after 90 minutes of public comment featuring a primarily negative response from the crowd of nearly 200 people. More than 20 people spoke against the project, and half as many spoke in favor.
Dietz spoke for 20 minutes, saying it was “the most difficult decision in my eight years on the board.” Following the vote, Dietz said no one factor led to his vote.
“It was everything. ... I’m not afraid of the project, it’s a good, clean commodity needed worldwide,” he said.
But the proposed location — in the port’s “laydown” yard — just wouldn’t suffice, he said. “I think it was the right decision.”
Dietz and Johnson are retired longshoremen with strong ties to dockworkers union, which opposed the Haven plan. However, Johnson said the union’s opposition was just one of several factors he had to consider.
“I made my decision based on what’s right for the port,” he said. “There will be more projects that will come around.”
Bagaason said “Haven didn’t bring their A-game” to a Feb. 19 meeting with port commissioners meeting and that Haven President Greg Bowles couldn’t answer commissioners’ questions in enough detail. Bagaason also felt commissioners were brought into the lease negotiations too late in the process.
Haven said it will continue looking for a site for a terminal, locally as well as elsewhere. Haven officials estimated the terminal would be worth a half billion dollars to the economy over the next decade.
“We believe strongly in the project and the value it has to offer to communities as well as the company. We will continue to look for any avenues to complete the project that can provide so much benefit to so many people,” Bowles said following the vote.
“We will continue to work with Haven if they’re interested,” Mike Bridges, president of Kelso-Longview Building Trades Council, said, adding that he was “surprised” and “disappointed” by commissioners’ decision.
“I hope this decision doesn’t influence other businesses that are looking to possibly locate in our region,” Bridges said.
Longview environmental activist John Green praised the decision, said he was “relieved,” and chastised energy companies for taking “short cuts” on safety.
“We’re happy and glad the port commissioners valued the long-term economic potential, health and safety of our community over short-term profit and corporate greed,” Diane Dick of Longview said after the vote.
A large crowd of both supporters and opponents filled the Expo Center on Tuesday to give last-minute pitches to the port commissioners.
David Hahn, a regional carpenter’s union representative, told the port commissioners, “This project would be huge” and provide family income to support children. “We are in support as the carpenters.”
That drew applause, but more noise came following the next five speakers, who said the project would not create enough jobs and would pose unacceptable safety risks.
Anne Bennett, an independent medical recruiter from Longview, said, “If this project is approved, Longview will continue to attract controversial industries that are undesirable to other communities.”
Still, local construction laborers and their representatives who stand to benefit the most in the short term touted the project as positive overall.
“When you have a project of this magnitude, everybody benefits,” said Lee Newgent, executive secretary of Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council.
Rick Von Rock, a retired pulp and paper union leader from Kelso, took issue with critics’ slogan that “we can do better” than a propane or coal terminal.
“We haven’t,” he said. “Let’s work with what will come here and make the best of that.”
If today’s Haven opponents had been alive around in the 1920s, Von Rock said, there would have been “no Longview Fibre, no Weyerhaeuser, no reason for the port.”
Kelso’s Linda Horst focused on safety concerns about handling large amounts of propane and butane.
“Why would you take such a gamble?” she asked, saying the jobs are not worth the safety risks to life and property.