The environmental effects of the 125-acre methanol plant proposed for the Tacoma Tideflats come up for public discussion Thursday evening (Jan. 21) at the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center downtown.
At the meeting, city officials will take public input on what factors to include in the environmental review of the facility, which is planned as the largest methanol refinery in the world.
It is the first of two scheduled hearings to guide the study. The comments Thursday, along with correspondence Tacoma officials have already begun to receive, will help write the guidelines for the study that will come up for public discussion Feb. 16, said Ian Munce, principal planner for the city. A consultant will then be hired to conduct the study.
“We're not at the decision point,” Munce said. “We’re talking about what work needs to be done to inform the decisions. It’s a yearlong process.”
This is a first step in the city’s review of the methanol refinery before considering a permit for Northwest Innovation Works, a concern backed by China’s government and oil company BP. In 2014, the company reached a 30-year lease agreement with the Port of Tacoma for the site of the former Kaiser Aluminum smelter, on the peninsula between the Blair and Hylebos waterways.
City records say the plant would use a new, 10-mile underground pipeline to bring in enough natural gas to create 20,000 metric tons of methanol per day. The production process would require 10.4 million gallons of fresh water daily from Tacoma Public Utilities, almost half the collective daily total of 21.8 million gallons for the utility’s residential customers shown in a 2014 report, and would discharge up to 1.44 million gallons of water each day into the city’s sewage system.
The methanol it produces — roughly 7.2 million metric tons a year — would be shipped via four to seven ships monthly to China, where it would help reduce the country’s use of coal in manufacturing. It would be built in two stages and come fully online in 2021, according to a timeline on the Northwest Innovation Works website. Besides Tacoma, a host of other agencies, including Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, the Department of Ecology and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, have to issue their own permits.
The facility’s supporters, including Gov. Jay Inslee, say it would bring a double benefit: new jobs for Tacoma — about 260 permanent employees, once it comes online — and a decrease in global greenhouse-gas emissions produced by burning coal. Northwest Innovation Works has planned smaller export-only methanol plants for Kalama and the Port of St. Helens in Clatskanie, Oregon.
The proposal’s critics cite the plant’s strain on Tacoma’s water and electric-supply systems, the potential disasters of explosions or chemical spills that producing and storing vast amounts of flammable methanol could create in an industrial accident, and the possibility that airborne chemical emissions could harm residents throughout the densely-populated city adjoining the port.
The final environmental impact statement is expected to be completed before the end of 2016, after another around of public comment once a draft is ready, Munce said. After that, the facility’s proposers can formally apply for permits.
Munce said the project “has generated a lot more interest” than others he’s seen in 15 years as a planner for Tacoma and other cities, and that another hearing might be scheduled if Thursday evening’s meeting isn’t long enough to give everyone a chance to comment. The public meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the convention center, with representatives of Northwest Innovation Works and other concerned organizations on hand starting at 5 p.m. to provide information.
The room has a 400-seat capacity. Speakers will be limited to 3 minutes each with each side taking turns, and the meeting is to conclude at 10:30 p.m., Munce said.
Methanol plant public hearing
When: Thursday (Jan. 21), doors open at 5 p.m., testimony begins at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center, 1500 Broadway, Tacoma
If you can’t go: Comments can be submitted to the city by Feb. 17 to Tacoma.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow live News Tribune coverage of the hearing on Twitter by searching for #methanol253.