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Port of St. Helens gives OK to methanol plant lease option

NW Innovation Works planning $1B facility for export to China


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - Murray V. Godley III, president of NW Innovation Works LLC, gestures while addressing Port of St. Helens commissioners and staff Wednesday, Feb. 12. The development company has plans to construct a facility north of Clatskanie that would convert natural gas into methanol for shipment to China.A development company planning to build a methanol plant and export terminal in north Columbia County had its option to lease Port of St. Helens land at the site unanimously approved by the Port Commission Wednesday, Feb. 12.

NW Innovation Works LLC, a Vancouver, Wash.-based company funded as a joint venture between partners that include multinational energy company BP and several entities in China, wants to construct a facility at the Port Westward industrial park north of Clatskanie that will convert natural gas to methanol for export to the Chinese port city of Dalian.

Company officials say the first phase of the project will represent a nearly $1 billion investment in Columbia County and create 120 “family-wage” jobs, with a second phase on the drawing board that would add an estimated 100 more workers.

The port has reacted favorably to NW Innovation Works’ plans.

Port commissioners were sure to clarify at Wednesday’s meeting that the project is shielded from some of the most common criticisms of developments at Port Westward. Commissioner Chris Iverson asked company President Murray V. Godley III to confirm that the methanol plant will not be coal-fired — Godley said it will not be — while Commissioner Mike Avent verified with Godley that methanol will not be moved by rail or truck.

“Our product will never be moved by rail or truck,” said Godley. “During the construction phase, we will have some truck traffic. ... We may bring in some construction-related materials by rail as well, but that would be the only point in time that we really would utilize that resource.”

Several members of the public voiced skepticism anyway.

Annie Christensen of St. Helens and Tammy Maygra of Deer Island asked whether NW Innovation Works would commit to using union labor at the plant.

Godley responded that union labor would be used for construction, but he declined to promise that plant workers will be unionized. Under further questioning from Maygra, he also said the company will hire local workers, but said he does not know how many people it will seek to hire locally.

St. Helens resident Brady Preheim was unimpressed with company officials’ answers.

“The secrecy doesn’t bode well to me,” said Preheim, who also complained of the company’s ties to BP and China. He said NW Innovation Works should hold town hall meetings to explain its plans to the community.

One person who testified did voice support for the lease option.

Portland resident Willy Myers, who is the executive secretary and treasurer of the Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council, said he has been working with NW Innovation Works to affirm the company’s intention to use union labor.

“We urge the port to enter into the option to lease, and later on, enter into a lease agreement with NW Innovations,” Myers said.

The lease option, which allows NW Innovation Works to reserve some 82 acres of land at Port Westward for the project while doing its “due diligence” on the design, planning and permitting phases before construction, was approved unanimously on a motion offered by Port Commissioner Colleen DeShazer.

In an earlier interview with the Spotlight, Godley and other company officials said they do not expect construction to begin at Port Westward until next year at the earliest, with the plant opening in late 2017 or early 2018 under the most optimistic timeframe.

Wednesday’s Port Commission meeting was held in the Columbia City Community Hall instead of the Port of St. Helens office four blocks away, which is the commission’s usual meeting location.

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