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TPU chairman to methanol proposer: ‘Go away and don’t come back’ without answers

The 125-acre site of a proposed methanol production plant is temporarily being used by Auto Warehousing Company as a Foreign Trade Zone for imported cars. Tanker ships carrying the liquid to China would share the Blair Waterway with container ships accessing Pierce County Terminal, rear left. Photo taken in Tacoma on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016.
The 125-acre site of a proposed methanol production plant is temporarily being used by Auto Warehousing Company as a Foreign Trade Zone for imported cars. Tanker ships carrying the liquid to China would share the Blair Waterway with container ships accessing Pierce County Terminal, rear left. Photo taken in Tacoma on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. dperine@thenewstribune.com

At a midday luncheon to discuss the proposal to build the world’s largest methanol plant on the Tacoma Tideflats, the chairman of Tacoma Public Utilities’ board said Wednesday the company behind the project should “go away and don’t come back” until it can provide the public with more specifics.

Bryan Flint, who is also the executive director of the Greater Metro Parks Foundation, said he had “kept an open mind” during the city’s vigorous methanol debate because the proposal includes obtaining water and electric service from TPU.

However, after listening to a City Club-hosted discussion on the methanol project for more than an hour, Flint said he was “extremely frustrated” by the responses given by panel member Philip Eastland, Northwest Innovation Works’ vice president of technology.

“The one thing I’ve learned today is that you are unable to answer basic questions about this project, and I’m extremely frustrated,” Flint said from the audience of more than 100 at the Stadium District’s Landmark Catering & Convention Center. “And so I would recommend to your executive team and your company, go away, get your act together and don’t come back until you’re ready to answer some of these basic questions.”

Some audience members applauded Flint’s statement. Eastland did not respond. After the meeting, the company provided a written statement that said the environmental review process required before the company can apply for permits “is the appropriate avenue” for answering questions about the plan.

“NWIW has met repeatedly with Tacoma Public Utilities staff members to discuss these issues, and those conversations will continue,” the statement says. “We understand the frustration of those who want more information now; but it takes time to research and consider all aspects of constructing what will be a $3.4 billion facility.”

Eastland was a substitute for the company’s scheduled representative for the event, Northwest Innovation Works president Murray “Vee” Godley. Throughout the 80-minute presentation, which was moderated by News Tribune columnist Matt Driscoll, Eastland demurred repeatedly when pressed for specific answers about the jobs, resource demands and pollution expectations for the methanol production facility.

Plans call for the plant to use 125 acres of Port of Tacoma land and require 400 megawatts of electricity and more than 10 million gallons of water each day to produce 20,000 tons of methanol.

Northwest Innovation Works, in which China’s government has the largest of several ownership shares, announced in February that it was suspending its application to build the plant. In a statement then, officials said they were “surprised by the tone and substance” of Tacomans’ reaction to the proposal and would conduct more public-outreach efforts.

“We’re going to carry on talking to people and see how things pan out,” Eastland said Wednesday.

The plant’s proposal to build a smaller plant in a rural area at the Port of Kalama has made more progress.

After the luncheon, Citizens for a Healthy Bay executive director Melissa Malott called Flint’s comments “warranted.” Malott, who was also on the panel, said several times during the event that her nonprofit had also been stonewalled by Northwest Innovation Works when it demanded specifics about the $3.4 billion project.

Malott said Citizens for a Healthy Bay had pressed since last fall for answers to a series of questions about the methanol plant, which would sit on the Puget Sound waterfront. Among them: which pollutants would be in its water and air discharges, and precisely what technology had enabled a December announcement that the plant would cut its proposed water use by 28 percent.

“They’re not doing the public any good,” Malott said afterward, “and at this point, because so many people are frustrated by them, they’re not doing themselves any good when they’re not putting out the whole story.”

Derrick Nunnally: 253-597-8693, @dcnunnally

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