Concerns from both the public and a commissioner regarding a proposed $1 billion methanol production plant at Port Westward were vetted Wednesday evening, Sept. 24, during a Port of St. Helens meeting.
A representative from China-based Northwest Innovation Works, LLC was slated to provide an updated presentation to port commissioners Wednesday, but no one from the company showed up. Despite the lack of company representation, Columbia County residents filled the meeting room and spilled out into the halls to listen and voice disapproval of the company and its proposed operation.
As planned, Northwest Innovation would construct a pipeline to transport natural gas to its plant, which would then be refined to produce methanol, also known as wood alcohol, to export to China. The methanol would then be used to make olefins, which are chemicals used in plastics, rubber, pharmaceuticals and household fibers like carpet, according to the companys website.
Northwest Innovation characterizes methanol as biodegradable and not carcinogenic, but also acknowledges the liquid can be toxic and flammable in certain situations.
Earlier this year, Port of St. Helens Deputy Executive Director Paula Miranda visited China along with Chuck Daughtry, Columbia County Economic Teams executive director, and Clatskanie City Manager Greg Hinkleman. The trio met with investors and officials from Bi Ke Clean Energy Technology Co. Ltd., which owns Northwest Innovation Works.
Port officials provided no background or explanation of the proposed operations Wednesday, but some residents had already reached out to Northwest Innovation and researched methanol operations.
Brady Preheim, who is also currently running for Columbia County clerk on the Nov. 4 ballot, said the project can be expected to use significant amounts of water.
Those plants, they take 2,500 gallons of water a minute, Preheim said. There are four proposed plants. When they are completed, thats 10,000 gallons a minute out of the Columbia River.
According to the companys website, Northwest Innovation is estimated to create up to 1,000 construction jobs during the methanol plants development and ultimately employ up to 120 full-time employees at family wages, plus benefits. Some said that estimate is misleading.
Deer Island resident Tammy Maygra raised concerns the company would pay its workers sub-standard wages.
I asked [Northwest Innovation Works President] Mr. [Vee] Godley about wages they were actually going to pay, Maygra said. I was referring to the United States standard of dollars and I think Mr. Godley was referring to the Chinese yuan, which is about $9,000 or $10,000 a year.
Residents werent the only ones with concerns about the company and its plans.
Commissioner Colleen DeShazer was cryptic but blunt in her suggestions to port staff to research the companys financial stability and intentions.
Maybe we need to look at their business model, DeShazer said. We need to make sure that the financial soundness of that company exists.
Port of St. Helens Executive Director Patrick Trapp said the company has yet to take any official action with the port and no lease agreement exists.
Northwest Innovation already has its plans for the Port Westward industrial park laid out on its website, but no permits have been obtained yet.