Local News

Oregon’s Columbia County Considers Port Expansion

The Port of Columbia County is asking county commissioners to rezone more than 800 acres at Port Westward near Clatskanie for industrial uses. Environmentalists are concerned that it could lead to construction of a methanol plant that would release a vast amount of global warming gases. Wednesday, January 27th is the deadline to comment on the proposed rezoning. KMUN’s Jacob Lewin has details:

Port Executive Director Doug Hayes says the area is short of land zone for industry:
“The intent is to bring jobs, to help the area.”

The rezoning would allow wood products, natural gas, dry or liquid bulk commodities processing, storage and transport. However the company Northwest Innovation Works has an option to lease some of the land for a refinery that would convert natural gas to methanol to be shipped to China. A similar proposal for the Port of Kalama would have resulted in 200 jobs, but the company was denied a key permit. Hayes says county commissioners, if they approve the rezoning, would examine the environmental impacts:
“I know that all the commissioners are concerned about the environment, absolutely. I know that they would look at it.”

The rezoning is also being challenged for possibly being incompatible with nearby prime farmland:
“Speaking of farmland, we certainly do think it’s compatible for the simple fact that I have two agricultural leases at Port Westward as we speak.”

Lauren Goldberg, legal and program director for the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper, hopes that Northwest Innovation Works will see that most people in the region do not want to see more fossil fuel infrastructure, but as for the company:
“They see an opportunity to take relatively inexpensive frack gas and use their refineries and then ship it to China and it would be there in China that it would be turned into olefins, the building blocks of plastic.”

Goldberg says the proposal for Port Westward is similar to the Kalama project:
“The scale of climate pollution from these methanol refineries is stunning. The one refinery that was just denied at the Port of Kalama would have used more fracked gas than all industry in Washington state combined.

Proponents of the project say China would replace coal, that it now uses in plastics production, with the natural gas from Oregon and that overall that would mean a reduction in greenhouse gases globally.

For KMUN, I’m Jacob Lewin