Well, who didn’t see that one coming?
The most likely outcome for the proposed methanol plant on the Tacoma Tideflats hasn’t been written on the walls for weeks, it’s been chiseled on the walls, engraved there by community opposition.
Public officials who initially backed the project could read it, hence the growing coolness — moving into minus temperatures — first from the city, then the port, toward the deal.
Northwest Innovation Works could read it, too, as much as it might claim that public protest had nothing to do with the decision to pull from the project outright.
NWIW still has two projects in development, in Kalama (along the Columbia River in Cowlitz County) and near Clatskanie, Oregon, (also on the Columbia). Support for the Kalama proposal has been much greater, and to date opposition has been much less, than what the company experienced in Tacoma. While some of the money spent in the past two years on development efforts in Tacoma is gone, much of the research, regulatory compliance and marketing work is applicable to all three, so NWIW’s investment isn’t a total loss, unless none of the three is built.
Thus the project, and presumably NWIW, are history in Tacoma.
But the controversy, suspicions and ill will, and questions about what to do with the ex-Kaiser Aluminum property and the Tideflats generally, are all settling in for a lengthy stay.
What the future isn’t likely to hold for that area of town is brownfield development for more heavy industry. As a going-away present, NWIW in its departure announcement cast doubt about whether the former smelter site, a property the Port of Tacoma says it has spent a considerable amount to rehabilitate, will ever pass regulatory muster for industrial activities.
On that score, if on nothing else, NWIW and the anti-methanol forces are in agreement. The latter group isn’t interested in another heavy-industry use there; some within that group are already turning the cross-hairs of their opposition to a proposed facility for fueling vessels with LNG.
The world’s supply of plants that magically generate lots of well-compensated jobs but no controversy is, not shockingly, quite limited. Will the port and the community be OK with using its properties for uses — container and imported-car parking lots, or warehouses — that don’t produce much in the way jobs or revenue, but also don’t bother anyone? That should keep the conversational fires burning for months to come, even without pouring any methanol on it.
Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at email@example.com. His column normally appears on Sunday.