New Lawsuit Aims to Protect Levee and Farmland from NEXT Refinery

Challenging Army Corps’ failure to review impacts of NEXT refinery construction on Port Westward levee

May 30, 2024


New Lawsuit Aims to Protect Levee and Farmland from NEXT Refinery 

overhead photo of Port Westward

Columbia Riverkeeper & 1000 Friends of Oregon challenge Army Corps’ failure to review impacts of NEXT refinery construction on Port Westward levee

Clatskanie, Ore. (May 30, 2024) — Today, Columbia Riverkeeper and 1000 Friends of Oregon filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) for determining that a Rivers and Harbors Act Section 14 permit was not required for NEXT Renewable Fuels’ (NEXT’s) proposed refinery and rail yard. Construction for NEXT’s proposed refinery and rail yard would involve driving heavy equipment along a road atop a levee that protects the Port Westward area from the Columbia River. Degradation of the levee would put farmland, homes, and energy infrastructure at risk of flooding. 

This is a very straightforward case,” said Audrey Leonard, Staff Attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper. “We’re asking the Army Corps to follow its own rules and keep local farmland above water.

Locals and farmers in the area have long raised concerns about the proposed refinery’s impacts on the system of levees and dikes that prevent flooding and provide irrigation. Even NEXT admits that further studies are necessary to determine how much weight the road and levee can safely withstand. Since 1915, levee infrastructure has protected 5,717 acres of farmland. Many of those actively farmed acres sit below the water level of the Columbia River. 

“The Army Corps is funded by our tax dollars to regulate the system of dikes and levees at Port Westward. The community has been demanding for years that the Corps undertake this review because of major proposed changes to Port Westward dikes, drainage systems, and water and flood control—and we support this challenge because it should prompt the Corps to answer our questions,” said Brandon Schilling, a farmer who leads the local group Save Port Westward. “For them not to respond or address these concerns feels sinister. We need to break the pattern of our community being silenced. We must take a hard look at the impact to our levee from building a massive proposed refinery and rail yard in an unstable, complicated, and sensitive area for farms, fish, and clean water. Our friends and neighbors could be put at risk by NEXT’s plans and the Corps’ failure to fully assess the situation.”

Under the Rivers and Harbors Act, the Army Corps is responsible for protecting levees from damage, by issuing permits for activities that use, occupy, or alter the infrastructure. Construction of NEXT’s proposed refinery at Port Westward “uses” the levee and therefore requires a permit. In an April 2022 letter to NEXT, the Army Corps illegally determined that although the project will “utilize the levee as a haul road,” a permit is not required. Columbia Riverkeeper and 1000 Friends of Oregon challenge this determination in the lawsuit. 

“Imagine someone told you that your favorite local park was going to be ‘utilized’ for a monster truck rally but that no permit was required because the rally wouldn’t ‘use’ the park,” said Andrew Missel, Staff Attorney at Advocates for the West, who is representing Columbia Riverkeeper and 1000 Friends of Oregon in the lawsuit. “You’d be right to think that makes no sense — and you’d be right to worry about what shape the park might be in after the rally. That’s the situation here, except NEXT is going to drive vehicles way heavier than monster trucks over the levee. The Army Corps has a duty to make sure that NEXT won’t damage the levee by using it as a haul road, and it has shirked that duty.”

“1000 Friends of Oregon has long been concerned about the impact on local farmland of the proposed refinery,” said Mary Kyle McCurdy, Associate Director of 1000 Friends of Oregon.


cows in a pasture in Port Westward

What’s Next: A massive, polluting refinery in the sensitive Columbia River Estuary at Port Westward.