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The Department of Environmental Quality said it didn't have enough information to approve the permit.

COURTESY PHOTO: PORT OF COLUMBIA COUNTY - NEXT Renewable Fuels plans to build a biofuel production facility at Port Westward, but it faces a new hurdle after the Department of Environmental Quality rejected its water quality permit application this month.Citing a lack of information needed to determine whether its proposed renewable fuels plant near Clatskanie would comply with Oregon's water quality requirements, the state Department of Environmental Quality has again denied a water permit sought by NEXT Renewable Fuels.

The Texas-based company is in the midst of securing permits and other approvals needed to build what it says will be an environmentally conscious biofuel production facility at the Port Westward Industrial Park.

The DEQ just approved an air quality permit for the facility last month.

However, water quality manager Steve Mrazik wrote in a Sept. 6 letter denying the water quality permit that NEXT Renewable Fuels hadn't answered the DEQ's "technical review questions," which it considers key to determining whether the water quality permit can be issued.

"As outlined in the August 8, 2022 request, additional information is needed regarding erosion and stormwater controls being undertaken to ensure compliance with water quality standards," Mrazik wrote. "The certification is therefore denied without prejudice."

Denying a permit without prejudice means the door is open to the applicant trying again, with the DEQ agreeing to consider a new request on its own merits.

A spokesperson for NEXT Renewable Fuels said the company plans to do so.

"We are disappointed in Oregon DEQ's inability to process our Section 401 water certification within their statutory timeline of a year, but we will keep working with them as we refile and start the permitting clock once again," said Michael Hinrichs, NEXT's director of communications, in an email to the Spotlight.

Hinrichs added, "This is not at all a roadblock, but rather an unnecessary distraction to the permitting process as we advance toward full project approval. Our project timeline remains unchanged."

Columbia Riverkeeper, a nonprofit environmentalist group that opposes the proposed refinery, hailed the DEQ's denial of the permit in a statement.

"NEXT's application materials were riddled with inconsistencies, and NEXT was apparently unable to answer even DEQ's basic questions," said Audrey Leonard, staff attorney at Columbia Riverkeeper.

Leonard added, "Between this permit denial and fierce opposition from neighboring farmers, the future of NEXT's controversial proposal is far from certain."

This is the second time that the DEQ has declined to certify a water quality permit sought by NEXT Renewable Fuels. The department previously denied a permit application in September 2021, also saying then it had not received enough information from the company.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a response from NEXT Renewable Fuels.

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