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The 6 Things You Need To Know about the Methanol Refinery Proposal
Photo by Washington State Dept of Transportation via Flickr

The 6 Things You Need To Know about the Methanol Refinery Proposal

The proposal by Northwest Innovation Works to build a methanol refinery in the tideflats of Tacoma on Port of Tacoma property has raised several questions and concerns by more people on any single local issue than I can recall during my service on the Tacoma City Council. By some, it has been cause for excitement due to the number of jobs it will provide in the short-term during construction, as well as over the long-term for its operation. I posted my Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) scoping public comment letter that I submitted for the official record today here > Methanol EIS Scoping Letter.

Due to the number of questions I have received over the past month or so on this project, below I briefly answer some of the top questions I have been asked during this time.

Q: Why didn’t I hear about this project until recently?

A: The city enters the process at the point at which there is an action for it to take, like responding to a development plan. Once a request was made by the applicant, the city designed a public outreach process for the scoping of the EIS process. It is unclear to me why the Port of Tacoma did not do significant public outreach about the potential tenant before signing the lease with Northwest Innovation Works knowing the use of the property and natural resources necessary to operate the facility would cause question and concern for many.

The potential use of the property and the anticipated natural resources is very different than storing cargo containers or tree logs, therefore likely should have received more notification and ability for public input by the Port of Tacoma Commission before contemplating signing a lease agreement with the tenant.

Q: What specifically are the impacts to the environment, human health, transportation and natural resources of a project like this?  

A: It is unclear what all of the impacts are. That is why the city will be conducting a environmental impact statement to analyze all of the impacts and whether they may be mitigated properly or not.

Q: Who recruited this project?

A: The City and its elected officials and Economic Development Department are not the recruiters of this project. The Port was likely contacted by a site selection firm looking for sites to place such a facility, and the Port of Tacoma—which is an independently elected local government (they must follow Tacoma’s land use laws and zoning and other applicable laws)—signed a lease with the project applicant and has been assisting with the various permitting procedures.

Q: What is the city’s role in the project? What is the Port of Tacoma’s role in the project?  

A: The city’s role is as regulator and permitter. It is the City’s job to determine if the project can be permitted at this location and if not, why not, and if so, should there be any mitigation placed on the project to reduce or eliminate the related impacts. If it is determined that it can be permitted with no or various mitigation, then the applicant will decide if they still want to build the facility with the costs of fulfilling the various mitigation requirements in mind.

The Port of Tacoma is the landlord in this situation and also assisting the project proponents to navigate the regulatory system.

Q: How do I weigh in on the process?

A: You may send comments to Tacoma.methanol.sepa@cityoftacoma.org. At this stage on the process, simply saying you are for or against the project is not the most useful thing to do. The point of an environmental impact statement is to identify all of the potential impacts of a project and determine if the impacts/risks are worth it and can be permitted and/or if they can be mitigated sufficiently or not.

Therefore, being very clear about your questions about what should and should not be studied and why is the most useful thing to do at this time. The deadline to submit comments about what should be studied in the EIS is March 4, 2016 at 5 PM.

Q: What are the various stages of the permitting process?

A: The first step is to scope what should be studied in the EIS. Then the city will conduct the EIS. This will take 12 – 18 months to complete depending on the complexity and nature of what is being studied. Then the draft EIS will be released and comments will be accepted on it through a very public process, much like the public scoping meetings over the past month. Then the city will issue final EIS. If the City’s EIS indicates it can be permitted and with what mitigation, if any, then the project applicant will undoubtedly need to receive various permits to complete the project for everything from air emissions from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency to pipeline expansion and many others. Those various likely permits will be identified in the EIS process.

You can follow the project details, public information, timeline and public comment opportunities HERE. 

About Ryan Mello

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