Opponents Aim To Block State Funding For Methanol Plant

Apr 6, 2017
Originally published on April 6, 2017 12:37 pm

Opponents of a methanol refinery proposed on the Columbia River say Washington is poised to spend $12 million in public funds to help build the controversial plant.

They sent a letter to Washington lawmakers Thursday asking them to block that spending because it would pay for a dock and a road needed by methanol project developer Northwest Innovation Works.

The Chinese-backed company has proposed a $1.8 billion methanol plant at the Port of Kalama that would convert natural gas to methanol, which would then be shipped overseas to be made into plastic. If built as proposed, it would be the largest facility of its kind.

“The world’s largest proposed methanol refinery and export terminal does not deserve a $12 million handout,” the letter from four environmental groups states. “That money would be better spent repairing Washington’s roads and bridges.”

The port has already applied unsuccessfully for federal funds to help build the dock and road needed for an export terminal. Last year, that infrastructure was added to a Washington state list of priority freight projects.

Now, the state Legislature is considering a budget that includes $44 million in funding for priority freight projects. The list of projects that could potentially receive the money includes the dock and road for the Port of Kalama.

“The dock and road would be used almost exclusively for the methanol refinery,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, director of the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper. “We don’t think public dollars should be used to fund foreign corporations or a project that has huge local impacts to quality of life, public health and our climate.”

VandenHeuvel said he wants lawmakers to amend their transportation spending bill so it prohibits spending state money on the methanol refinery.

“There’s many public infrastructure projects that should receive funding and support ahead of this one,” he said.

The Washington House and Senate still need to finalize the state’s transportation budget, so he’s hoping lawmakers will amend their spending bills before any final vote.

Liz Newman, marketing manager for the Port of Kalama, said the port is currently planning on building the dock and the road using its own operating revenues or by taking out a loan.

“If we add state or federal money, that means less comes out of our local coffer,” she said.

The infrastructure is intended to serve the methanol plant, she said, but the port has had plans to build an export facility in that area for decades.

The port has a lease with Northwest Innovation works that would require the company to pay fees to use the dock. Those fees would ultimately repay the port for the expense of building the infrastructure, she said.

“None of that money goes to the methanol plant, and in fact the methanol plant will repay that amount through fees,” she said.

Newman said the methanol facility fits with the port’s mission to create jobs and draw investments to the area.

Copyright 2017 ERTHFX. To see more, visit ERTHFX.