Tacoma voters could weigh in this fall on a proposed $3.4 billion methanol refinery on the Tideflats.
The issue is being advanced by a group of Tacomans called the RedLine Tacoma Coalition, who say they were shocked to learn about Northwest Innovation Works’ plans to produce methanol for export to China. The group plans to turn in paperwork Friday to start signature gathering for an advisory ballot measure.
If the group collects enough signatures by summer, voters will answer the following question: “Do you want the largest methanol production refinery in the world, creating toxins, polluting our air and water, located in the Port of Tacoma?”
“This will be the largest methanol refinery ever built on the planet, by an investment group that has never built anything,” said Claudia Riedener, a member of the RedLine Tacoma Coalition.
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This will be the largest methanol refinery ever built on the planet, by an investment group that has never built anything.
Claudia Riedener, a member of the RedLine Tacoma Coalition
While the company itself hasn’t built a single project, each member of Northwest Innovation Works’ management team has experience building large-scale projects, spokeswoman Charla Skaggs said.
“Methanol has been produced safely from natural gas for decades,” Skaggs said. “We really believe this facility and our commitment to innovation is the right match for the Pacific Northwest.”
Riedener said the group intends to collect the required 3,190 signatures from registered Tacoma voters to place the issue on the Nov. 8 ballot.
3,190 number of signatures required to place an advisory vote on Tacoma’s fall ballot
Though the vote will be advisory only, backers say the signature drive will serve to notify the public about the project.
The group says the plant is being planned without regard to existing dangers, including earthquake, landslide, tsunami and lahar hazards. They are worried the methanol facility will also put nearby residents in danger and contribute to the planet’s plastic pollution problem.
Port of Tacoma spokeswoman Tara Mattina said the plant’s future is not set in stone. People now have a chance to tell the city what they think the scope of the project’s environmental review should be. The comment period for the proposed natural gas-to-methanol plant ends Feb. 17.
“The environmental review is exactly for that,” Mattina said Tuesday of the group’s concerns. “It’s a very public process, and it’s designed to allow the public to have a say in what gets studied and what sorts of impacts there might be for this development.”
The group’s concerns also include the amount of electricity and water that will be required to keep the Tideflats facility running. Northwest Innovation Works officials have said once the plant is fully operational it would require up to 450 megawatts at peak production, the equivalent of what’s needed to power approximately 337,500 to 450,000 average homes in the U.S., according to the National Hydropower Association.
Methanol has been produced safely from natural gas for decades. … We really believe this facility and our commitment to innovation is the right match for the Pacific Northwest.
Charla Skaggs, spokeswoman for Northwest Innovation Works
The plant also could use 10.4 million gallons of water per day — down from a prior estimate of 14.4 million gallons per day — enough to supply more than 55,700 homes, according to TPU figures on household water use.
Nearly two years ago, the Port of Tacoma commission approved a 30-year lease of the former Kaiser Aluminum property to Northwest Innovation Works. The size of the proposed plant doubled last year around the time China President Xi Jinping visited the area.
The Tacoma project is one of three the company is proposing in the Pacific Northwest. The company has said the $3.4 billion project will create 1,000 jobs during peak construction and will require an estimated 260 permanent workers to operate.
The first of two public meetings about the scope of environmental review for the project is Jan. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center, 1500 Broadway. Information about the project will be available there starting at 5 p.m.