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Hundreds Of Tacoma Residents Show Up For Meeting About World's Biggest Methanol Plant

Ashley Gross
Karen Cross expressed concerns about possible pollution from the proposed methanol plant.

The city of Tacoma’s first public meeting about plans for the world’s largest methanol plant drew a much bigger crowd than expected. 

One fire marshal estimated that a thousand people showed up. Some couldn’t get into the main room or an overflow room because those were already full. 

They all came to learn about and comment on the methanol plant that Northwest Innovation Works, a company backed by a Chinese state agency and a group of investors, wants to build at the Port of Tacoma.

The company plans to take natural gas via pipeline and convert it to about 20,000 metric tons (about 6.6 million gallons) of methanol a day and then ship that to China to be used to make raw material for plastics. The company has said that it will need about 1,000 people to build the plant and as many as 260 to operate it. 

Debating The Economic Benefits

During a break in the meeting, Joseph Taliento got into a debate with Peter Buck, an electrician who supports the plant.

"After you guys are done building it, the jobs are gone," Taliento said. 

"No, the jobs aren’t gone," Buck said. "There are still going to need to be people to run the plant."

"Not many," Taliento said. "The point is there won’t be that many."

"Two hundred jobs is quite a few in my opinion," said Buck, who was wearing his International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 76 T-shirt. 

The meeting is part of the process of creating an environmental impact statement. People raised fears about pollution, the plant’s water usage and the possibility of a fire resulting from a natural disaster. 

Seismic Danger

"I worry about the fact that seismologists report that the Pacific Northwest is overdue for an earthquake of 8.0 or greater on the Richter scale," said Bill Kupinse. "That’s one big enough to form a tsunami."

Karen Cross, who wore a T-shirt that said "Tacoma Washington" and a button that said "NO Methanol Refinery," said the proposal hearkens back to the city's legacy of environmental pollution, when people spoke of "the aroma of Tacoma."

"If we have no clean water to drink, if we have no air that we can breathe, what are a few dollars and 200 jobs to anyone?" Cross said. 

A Northwest Innovation Works spokeswoman said safety is the company's top priority and that it plans to use a process designed to keep emissions low. 

An Army veteran named Jimmy Osborne urged people to keep an open mind.

"Let’s proceed with a spirit of cooperation that benefits us all," Osborne said. 

The city of Tacoma plans to hold another public meeting on Feb. 16 in northeast Tacoma.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.