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Northwest Innovation Works given renewal to hold site at Port Westward for future methanol plant

Plans for a methanol plant in Columbia County are still a go.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Vee Godley, far right, of NW Innovation Works, addresses commissioners and citizens during a meeting at the Port of St. Helens offices Wednesday, Feb. 14. Northwest Innovation Works, the company behind the proposed methanol production plant at Port Westward in Clatskanie, just renewed a lease option with the Port of St. Helens at $15,000 a month.

The lease option allows the Port to hold a site at Port Westward until NWIW is ready to develop it.

Vee Godley, president of NWIW, says the project was stalled for a few years, citing "logistical" issues, but Godley says the company does plan to move forward with pre-construction environmental scoping.

Godley addressed Port commissioners and county residents Wednesday, Feb. 14, during a Port board meeting. Godley said while the country is looking to move toward relying less on fossil fuels and more on renewable sources of energy, the U.S. isn't there yet. Feedstock products like methanol still have a big role in industry, as both a fuel source and chemical component in manufacturing.

"We are transitioning to, hopefully, a renewable future," Godley said by phone Wednesday. "That future is not today, it's not tomorrow, but we've got to keep pursuing that, and that's what we're doing."

NWIW touts itself as a "clean manufacturing" operation, producing feedstock by using natural gas and wood to create a clear, watery wood alcohol substance most commonly used in formaldehyde.

The proposed methanol plant remains controversial in Columbia County. Environmental advocates question the amount of water needed to produce the wood-based alcohol product and possible air and water quality impacts from the production plant. Others, including the majority of Port commissioners, say the county needs the family-wage jobs promised by NWIW.

"These are jobs that are fairly similar to what's going on at Dyno Nobel right now," Godley said after Wednesday's meeting. "The skillsets we need are readily available and live in your community."

Jobs, and income to the county from taxes, have been sticking points for Port commissioners. While the methanol plant is still in its infancy and has yet to obtain permitting or approval from the state Department of Environmental Quality, Port officials say they've done their homework on the project.

"I thought it was a good idea," Commissioner Larry Ericksen said of his first impression of the project. "I have been studying methanol. One of the things I found was that the need for methanol is actually rising."

The demand for methanol is largest in Asia, where Pan Pacific Energy Corp., the company that owns NWIW, is headquartered. NWIW maintains its headquarters in Kalama, Wash.

Having a plant with dock access would allow NWIW to ship the finished product by barge along the Columbia River.

Commissioner Chris Iverson weighed in before voting to approve the lease option extension, noting NWIW has paid for years to secure a site in Columbia County.

"We made a commitment to a company and we've taken their money for at least three years," Iverson said. "I don't think it's right to shut the door on them. It's not going to stop them from having to go through every permitting process in Oregon, which is cumbersome. If it's meant to be, it will get through the process."

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