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Port Of Tacoma Commissioners Say They Need More Answers About Proposed Methanol Plant

Ashley Gross
The Port of Tacoma

Port of Tacoma commissioners say they have a lot of unanswered questions about a Chinese-backed company's proposed methanol plant on port property.

Almost two years ago, the commissioners signed a 30-year lease with the company, Northwest Innovation Works, with little public input. But lately there’s been so much public outcry that the company paused the environmental review process and is now seeking an extension to the feasibility phase of the lease. 

On May 1, the lease is scheduled to shift into the construction phase. At that point, the company will have to pay more in rent and will no longer have the ability to terminate the lease, according to Lou Paulsen, the port's director of strategic operations projects and risk management.

The Port of Tacoma Commission has set a special meeting about the methanol plant lease for April 25. Commission President Connie Bacon said she wants to hear more from the company about safety risks.

"Our number one goal is to make sure that we all - you, us, everybody that’s involved - has the answers to their questions and I don’t really feel comfortable that we’ve had those answers adequately yet," she said at a packed Port of Tacoma commission meeting.

People from businesses and labor unions urged the commission to agree with the company’s request as a way to let the environmental review process play out. But many other people said the commission should not grant the company’s request to extend the feasibility period of the lease because the plant poses risks to the environment in a city that’s still trying to clean up from past industrial pollution. 

Northwest Innovation Works has proposed building a methanol plant that would rival a methanol complex in Saudi Arabia that analysts say is the largest in the world. The company would bring in natural gas by pipeline to the site on the tideflats, convert it into liquid methanol and ship it to China, where it would be used to make plastics. 

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.