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Port commission approves Kinder Morgan refund


Port to return money to coal-export company as part of lease option deal

Port of St. Helens commissioners agreed Wednesday to authorize the port’s executive director to return all payments made by Kinder Morgan as part of an agreement made while the Houston-based energy company considered building a coal export terminal at the Port Westward Industrial Park.

Kinder Morgan had an option to lease agreement with the Port of St. Helens from January 2012 until last month, when the company announced it was no longer interested in the Port Westward site.

As part of the agreement, Kinder Morgan paid $10,000 per month to the port on the condition that the money might have to be returned if the plans folded.

While port officials said last month they were unsure whether the $162,333 collected from Kinder Morgan since last January would have to go back to the Texas company, the resolution adopted by unanimous vote of the Port Commission Wednesday makes it clear that the agreement requires the money to be returned.

“I think it’s the fair and right thing for us to do, and I’m glad we’re doing it,” said Port Commissioner Chris Iverson at the meeting in Columbia City Wednesday evening.

The Kinder Morgan proposal and the possibility of other coal facilities being built at Port Westward have raised the hackles of some Columbia County residents. But coal is not the only fossil fuel that some do not want to see at the energy park north of Clatskanie.

St. Helens resident Nancy Whitney, speaking during the public comment section of the meeting, asked port commissioners and staff if they know of any plans for an oil refinery to come to Port Westward.

“Have any of you spoken with any oil companies regarding oil refineries, or are you in any way entertaining the idea of oil refineries at Port Westward in the future?” asked Whitney, adding that chatter about a possible refinery at Port Westward is “rampant” in the community.

“I will say for myself, I have not been approached by anyone even asking me that question,” Iverson replied. “As for the future, we’ll talk to anybody about anything. Now, whether it’s a good idea and we’re going to go forward with it, that’s another issue. But I’ve not been asked by anybody — by staff or anybody in the public. You’re the first person that’s ever mentioned it to me, ever, about refineries at Port Westward.”