The Small but Mighty Team Behind the Kalama Methanol Victory
Seven years years ago Columbia Riverkeeper teamed up with community members in the small town of Kalama, Wash., to take on a proposal for the world’s largest fracked gas-to-methanol refinery. On January 19, 2021, in a stunning decision for our climate and the Columbia, the Wash. Dept. of Ecology denied the developer's key permit to build and operate the refinery.
I’m still reeling.
The developer, Northwest Innovation Works (NWIW), has 21 days to appeal Washington’s decision. Here’s what we know for sure: the refinery backers face massive hurdles in court to overturn Washington’s carefully reasoned denial. Like other fossil fuel infrastructure victories in the last decade, Columbia Riverkeeper is prepared to go to court to help defend Washington state’s decision if NWIW appeals. Stay tuned.
The incredible victory comes on the heels of years of high-profile media attention and legal victories. But not everyone knows about the people that formed the backbone of this campaign—a small but mighty crew of dedicated individuals who never gave up on protecting what they love. Without their energy, research, and downright grit, the victory over the Kalama methanol giant would not have been possible.
If you’ve never been to Kalama, you’re missing out on a special place. Nestled between the
Kalama River to the north and the Columbia River to the west, this sweet little city of around 2700 people has the kind of small town charm that is hard to come by. If you aren’t paying attention as you drive I-5, you might just miss it—but you shouldn’t. With serene walking trails that stretch along the banks of the Columbia, shops along Main Street, and beautiful natural areas on all sides, Kalama is the kind of place that makes you feel more relaxed as soon as you coast past the “Welcome to Kalama” sign.
My first official meeting with the Kalama crew was in June of 2019, taking the baton from Riverkeeper’s former senior organizer, Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, who had helped organize the team of community members. I walked through the door of Diana’s place on Main Street into a small, cozy room—filled with a collection of chairs, couches, and piles of information about the project—where we would meet every month until COVID-19 forced us to switch to virtual gatherings. I was immediately greeted with a warm welcome from the people who I would soon come to consider dear friends. It was clear from my first meeting that I would learn a lot from this group. A diverse team of activists, scientists, researchers, writers, and concerned individuals—holding decades of wisdom—who welcomed me with open arms into this very personal fight.
I had heard about “the Lindas” before the meeting, and the reputation that preceded them did not disappoint. By the end of the evening, this bright and friendly duo had me loaded up with years of research to catch up on, neatly packaged—so thoughtfully organized that it made the mountain of information seem manageable.
But, before I could even dig into the pile, the meeting started and I was quickly introduced to Diane, Mike, Mark, Chris, and many others—all extremely skilled researchers whose powers combined make for a head-spinning wealth of information.
There was John, an avid fisherman, and Gary, a long-time Kalama resident and union worker, who welcomed me with a handshake and friendly pat on the back. Maureen, Kristin, and everyone else offering me warm, reassuring smiles.
Charlene, the owner of Camp Kalama, where, at a rally to oppose Kalama methanol, I first had the chance to paddle the beautiful Kalama River to its confluence with the mighty Columbia, a special place within minutes of the proposed refinery site.
And then there is the Keely family, a dynamic, driven parent-daughter trio that has shown up repeatedly as a family over the last six years to speak at hearings, rallies, and meetings of all sorts, in venues from big open fields to cemeteries.
I really cannot say enough about this group. There are so many others in this fight—far too many to name—who have been there all along the way, showing up with the hope that it might just make a difference. And it did.
Even in these past 18 months, we’ve been through a lot together: hearings and rallies; hours of testimony, phone banking, and strategizing; late nights and early mornings; researching, reading, and writing; campaigning and networking; victories, loss, and grief over those lost along the way. Through it all, this local team in Kalama has remained steadfast in their dedication to protecting the environment and the community they love.
There is no MVP—they are all MVPs. I could fill pages describing the contributions of each of these individuals. Every time a need arose in this campaign, the people in Kalama met it. And through this campaign, many relationships have formed. Neighbors met neighbors, friendships blossomed, and I have no doubt that these deep connections will continue long after the proposal that almost doomed Kalama is a distant memory.
If you are one of these people, or if you took action to stop the methanol refinery, let me say: Thank you to each and every one of you. Thank you for allowing us to join in your fight and for selflessly sharing your knowledge, time, and resources. Thank you for envisioning a better future and sacrificing to make it a reality. Thank you for the hours, days, and years of your lives that could have been spent enjoying the Columbia River and Kalama; your work means that others will now have that chance. Thank you for showing up, and showing up, and showing up. Thank you for fighting for your community and our climate.