WATCH: Port commissioner Don Johnson discusses Tacoma methanol plant

Port of Tacoma Commissioner Don Johnson talks about what Northwest Innovation Works will have to do to earn his vote for a requested extension of a lease term.
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Port of Tacoma Commissioner Don Johnson talks about what Northwest Innovation Works will have to do to earn his vote for a requested extension of a lease term.
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Port of Tacoma

Methanol backer keeps port leaders waiting for answers

April 05, 2016 06:31 PM

Proponents of a $3.4 billion methanol project on the Tacoma Tideflats do not plan to meet with Port of Tacoma commissioners before an April 25 vote on its lease.

Last week commissioners said they wanted Northwest Innovation Works to justify why it wanted an extension of the feasibility period of its lease.

However, company officials told the port that nobody is available to talk with the commission this week, said port spokeswoman Tara Mattina. After this week there are conflicts in commissioner and port executive calendars.

“To me it means they’ve lost interest,” said Port of Tacoma Commissioner Don Johnson. He said he likes to take time to consider a vote. “From my perspective, I don’t see myself making a decision on the 25th that benefits them.”

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To me it means they’ve lost interest. … From my perspective, I don’t see myself making a decision on the 25th that benefits them.

Port of Tacoma Commissioner Don Johnson

The port commission approved the lease with Northwest Innovation Works nearly two years ago. The lease includes several phases, one of which is the feasibility period.

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.

Commissioner Dick Marzano said Tuesday that he is “disappointed” in the company’s decision and “skeptical” of anything the company might promise on April 25.

“I’m quite disappointed, to be perfectly frank,” Marzano said. “… This has been the focal point for such a long period of time, and rightfully so. It’s hard to go any further.”

Commissioner Don Meyer said earlier this year that he wanted to give the public ample time to view any changes to the company’s lease before a commission vote.

“I’ve slowly reached the conclusion that we have a faulty lease no matter what happens on the extension period,” Meyer said Monday.

I’ve slowly reached the conclusion that we have a faulty lease no matter what happens on the extension period.

Port of Tacoma Commissioner Don Meyer

Company president Murray “Vee” Godley has presented to the port commission a few times on the project. Meyer said Godley’s lack of availability this week has put the company into a difficult position: “His burden, not necessarily ours.”

Last week commissioners said there are more questions than answers related to the methanol project, and Northwest Innovations has had nearly two years to answer them.

Commission President Connie Bacon said Monday, “There are so many things (I’d like to hear) that it’s hard to pick from. The community has asked a lot of questions, and so far there have not been specific answers. And I hope they come equipped with some answers.”

Bacon said if the commission denies an extension of the feasibility period, the company has five days to either terminate or move on to the so-called “construction phase,” where it will pay hundreds of thousands of dollars more per month.

The company has proposed to use natural gas to make methanol, which it will ship it to China to make plastics. At public meetings people have said they are worried about the plant’s use of 10.4 million gallons of water per day. Northwest Innovations officials have told Tacoma Public Utilities that at full production the plant would require 400 megawatts, the equivalent of powering approximately 300,000 to 400,000 average homes in the U.S.

Supporters say American workers can operate the plant safely. When completed, the company has said the facility could provide up to 260 full-time jobs.

Several port commissioners said they will not meet in executive session to discuss the methanol proposal between now and the 25th. Commissioner Clare Petrich was out of the country and unavailable for comment.

Mattina said the port is working to find a larger meeting venue that allows for a live stream. The port’s space can hold about 100 people in the main room.

NWIW continues to work with Port of Tacoma commissioners and staff to provide necessary information as they respond to our request for a lease amendment, which will be considered on April 25th.

Statement from Northwest Innovation Works

Northwest Innovation Works did not respond to a request for a phone interview. Instead the company emailed a brief statement Tuesday afternoon to The News Tribune: “NWIW continues to work with Port of Tacoma commissioners and staff to provide necessary information as they respond to our request for a lease amendment, which will be considered on April 25th.”

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports