Year in review: Biofuel facility closer to construction
Preparations for the NEXT Renewable Fuels production facility at Port Westward are underway.
In September, following months of public forums and scrutiny of NEXT leadership, the Port of Columbia County board of commissioners approved a lease with NEXT.
Construction will begin in late 2020, NEXT President Lou Soumas said in December.
"Before we start that, we'll start the hiring process for senior people that we will want to have on the project all the way," Soumas said.
Starting in early 2021, the company will hire on for other positions, ultimately employing around 200 people.
Commercial operations are expected to begin mid-2022. That's a delay from NEXT's previously scheduled opening date of 2021.
New employees will undergo months of training at NEXT before production begins. Operational staff will have between six and nine months of training, Soumas said.
"The first half of next year we'll be focusing on putting the training programs in place. Making some final decisions on which organizations we're going to work with," Soumas said. The project will con-
tinue working with the port, OMIC R&D, and may work with Portland Community College or Perry Technical Institute.
There are around 40 people currently on the project, Soumas said. That includes a team preparing permit applications for the project, such as an air quality permit from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and a permit for construction near wetlands from the Oregon Department of State Lands and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Those major permit applications will go in late first quarter, Soumas said.
Other permits will be needed from the county.
"We feel 1000% positive about the project going through, given the level of support we've had locally and regionally," Soumas said.
Throughout 2020, Columbia County residents won't see much activity on the ground for NEXT. "Between now and the fall next year, between permitting and all this engineering design, about another $80 million will be spent," Soumas said. So far, the project has cost $15 million.
The lease was narrowly approved by the port commission in September. The votes against the lease came from Nancy Ward and Chip Bubl, who were both elected in races against the incumbent commissioners in May.
The port commission recently approved the fourth amendment to the site development and option agreement. That agreement, approved in 2018, meant the property was on hold for NEXT before the lease was signed. The fourth amendment gave NEXT an extension to complete use agreements for water systems, road use, rail use, and other utilities needed by NEXT, Global Partners LLP and Portland General Electric.
In June, the port commission approved another amendment, which allowed NEXT to move the lease option onto a parcel that was previously under Northwest Innovation Works' option agreement. NWIW aims to open a methanol production facility at Port Westward but moved the option agreement to a parcel that is not yet ready for development.
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