Port of Tacoma

Port commission no closer to answers about methanol plant

Almost two years ago, the Port of Tacoma commission approved a lease for what could become the largest methanol plant in the world, on the Tacoma Tideflats.

Commissioners said Wednesday that they are no closer to answers than they were on that May day.

Sooner rather than later, Commissioner Don Johnson said, Northwest Innovation Works will have to explain itself and advocate for an extension of a lease term called the feasibility period.

“What might be the best idea is have Northwest Innovation Works — they’re big boys and they are portfolio managers — tell me why they want an extension,” Johnson said.

Other commissioners echoed that sentiment.

“As a person looking for an extension, they should be here right away” to answer the commission’s questions, said Commissioner Richard Marzano. “Failing to do that, they are only going to do what they have done so far, which is nothing.”

Without an extension in the feasibility period, the China-backed company could pay hundreds of thousands more dollars per month than its current $8,000 monthly terms. It would also lose the ability to back out of the lease if the feasibility period expires, said Lou Paulsen, Port of Tacoma director for strategic operations projects.

Speakers at Wednesday’s meeting asked for another path.

“As a resident and taxpayer of Tacoma, I am here to officially ask you to use whatever strategy is the best one to send Northwest Innovation Works out of Tacoma,” said Ann Locsin, who said she lives near the project site.

In February, Northwest Innovation Works announced a “pause” in the weekslong environmental review process. In that announcement, the company said it was “surprised by the tone and substance” of the discussion surrounding its proposal.

Commissioner Connie Bacon said she, too, was surprised by the public’s discussions with the port.

“You have researched, you haven’t just come here yelling at us. I am proud of all of you,” Bacon said.

Nobody in Wednesday’s crowd spoke in favor of the proposal.

State Sen. Jeannie Darneille urged the port commission to break the lease. She said the company has provided no answers in the 24 months since it signed the document.

“That company has made gaffe after gaffe after gaffe,” Darneille said. “They have refused to answer questions, they have promulgated propaganda, and there is no indication that their practices will change.”

After the meeting, a NWIW spokeswoman relayed a statement to The News Tribune, which she said was attributed to company leadership: “Northwest Innovation Works is committed to working closely with the Port of Tacoma Commission to ensure that their, and the community’s, questions are answered.”

Commissioners asked that a meeting with company representatives be scheduled as soon as possible. Commissioners could discuss proposed lease terms in public session April 21. A final vote is scheduled for April 25.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports