Wrong Place, Wrong Plan, Wrong Company
Community Pushes Back on NEXT Refinery at Port Westward: Wrong Place, Wrong Plan, Wrong Company
On March 23, 2022, the Columbia County Board of Commissioners adopted a written decision that grants land use permits for the NEXT renewable diesel refinery proposed at Port Westward. This a pyrrhic victory for NEXT, who faced harsh opposition from local community members and major objections raised by the Department of Land Conservation and Development, Oregon’s lead land use agency.
As one community member summarized after hearing hours of testimony, “Wrong place, wrong plan, wrong company,” referencing major unresolved concerns and questions about the project’s location, impacts, and backers.
Columbia Riverkeeper joined with 1000 Friends of Oregon, Envision Columbia County, Save Port Westward advocates, and a broad array of community voices in urging the county commissioners to deny the applications based on inconsistent information and negative impacts to the local community, clean water, and sensitive drainage and diking infrastructure. Deliberating for less than ten minutes, the commissioners approved the land use applications, deferring consideration of several major issues to state and federal permitting agencies.
Multiple parties to the Columbia County land use proceeding for NEXT are evaluating potential appeals. Regardless, NEXT will have to answer more fully for the impacts of the proposed refinery project and the proposed rail yard via the (likely lengthy) permitting process facing NEXT at the state and federal level.
In the coming months, Columbia Riverkeeper will be urging state and federal officials to deny key permits because of major direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts on communities, salmon, and clean water.
More Resources to Learn Details about NEXT’s Impacts:
Watch this eight-minute video produced by local neighbors to the project:
Protect Port Westward from an ill-conceived industrial project amidst sensitive wetlands, mint fields, blueberry crops, salmon habitat, and a nearby monastery.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Local Farmers and Community Groups Oppose Columbia River Biodiesel Refinery Despite County Approval
March 23, 2022 (St Helens, Ore.)—Today the Columbia County Board of Commissioners approved land use permits for NEXT Renewable Fuels Oregon, LLC’s proposed renewable diesel refinery and its adjacent railyard. The controversial decision comes after hundreds of community members and local farmers voiced concerns about the refinery’s impacts on the Columbia River estuary and neighboring farmlands. The Board’s decision also followed objections raised by Oregon’s lead land use agency, the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD).
“Frankly, our community has too many concerns to concisely voice, which speaks to the poor siting of this project. More importantly, our local government and NEXT Energy have largely dismissed these concerns. Their decisions to press forward with insufficient impact assessments and community engagement reflect a narrow approach to the emergent challenges we are facing environmentally and politically,” said Jasmine Lillich, a local farmer who organizes to protect Port Westward. “As water is increasingly contaminated and farmland is rapidly replaced by industrial development and urban growth, we are talking about protecting the very resources we depend on: food and water.”
Most local residents spoke against the proposed NEXT project in January, detailing the many ways in which NEXT would be incompatible with sensitive drainage and dike infrastructure, mint fields, blueberry crops, a monastery, and the rail corridor through Columbia County.
“We are not opposed to renewable diesel—what we are opposed to is this particular project in this particular location,” said Dan Serres, Conservation Director for Columbia Riverkeeper. “The area’s sensitive water resources, unique soils, and surrounding high-value farmland make it unsuitable for a refinery of this size. Farmers who have been working the land surrounding Port Westward for generations now find their livelihoods threatened by this poorly planned facility.”
The company behind NEXT has a troubling track record, including involvement in a failed biofuels facility in Odessa, Wash., that resulted in a $400,000 Superfund cleanup.
Dan Lawler, Rural Lands Attorney with 1000 Friends of Oregon, wrote detailed comments on the proposed refinery and rail yard. He wrote, “At the hearing on January 19th, local farmers and community members provided extensive oral testimony expressing concerns about impacts that the project would have on the water supply to local farms. The record is also filled with written comments flagging the need to analyze the impacts of the proposal on surrounding farmland.”
According to nearby residents, the County’s decision did not fully address the potential impacts that altering drainages, filling ditches, and altering surface and groundwater could have on farms that rely on this area for water supply in making their decision.
Darrel Whipple, a member of local watchdog group Envision Columbia County and a resident of Columbia County close to Port Westward, stated, "The Port Westward community and the nearby water resources, salmon habitat, and farms deserve and call out for protection, not a massive refinery. The seismic risks alone associated with Port Westward's liquefiable soils make this an unsuitable location for a refinery."
In the coming months, state and federal agencies will hear from community members who have identified major problems in NEXT’s plans already as they make decisions about whether to issue critical state and federal permits for the proposed project. State and federal officials will have to evaluate carefully the risks that NEXT would create at such a critical bend in the Columbia River Estuary.
As one local commenter summarized NEXT’s proposal, “Wrong place, wrong plan, wrong company.”
Columbia Riverkeeper’s FAQ on the proposed NEXT refinery and rail yard.
More Details About Upcoming Permit Reviews
NEXT faces major community opposition and permitting hurdles. As more details about the project emerge, new concerns are arising including risks to area water resources, neighboring farms, and the increase of proposed rail traffic for NEXT’s project,
Columbia Riverkeeper will urge state and federal government agencies to pay close attention to the detailed issues and problems already identified by comments from a broad array of community members and leaders, many with deep roots in the community.
Here are some of the upcoming processes where we can weigh in:
- The U.S. Army Corps will conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and we expect a formal public comment period soon. This is a very good opportunity to identify key issues, potential alternatives to and within the project, and the likely impacts on water resources and other resources in the area. Thanks to an outpouring of detailed comments and additional input in recent months, the Corps chose to develop a full EIS for the proposed NEXT refinery project, a significant process that should unfold over the next year. Stay tuned - Columbia Riverkeeper will share more information about how to comment in upcoming fact sheets and webinars.
- Oregon Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will review air pollution permits for the proposed NEXT project. We expect Oregon DEQ to release a draft air pollution permit for NEXT soon. The NEXT project raises major concerns for neighbors to the project due to its potential for noxious odors, particulate emissions, emissions related to converting fracked gas into hydrogen for the renewable diesel, and health impacts on nearby neighbors. Columbia Riverkeeper will provide a fact sheet and information about public hearings on this issue as soon as DEQ releases its draft permit for comment.
- Oregon DEQ, Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) and the Army Corps of Engineers will review impacts to water quality, wetlands, drainage issues, and the cumulative and connected impacts of projects in the area through Clean Water Act permit reviews. The agencies will consider Oregon’s protections for clean water as it evaluates wetland and waterway removal-fill permits for the over 140 acres that NEXT will impact during construction and operation as well as its controversial mitigation scheme (which has itself drawn sharp opposition from the local Beaver Drainage District). The project would have significant, unavoidable impacts that conflict with Oregon’s laws for protecting clean water and other resources.
Your Voice Matters
You’ve already made a real difference by calling for the Army Corps to conduct an EIS. By agreeing to do an EIS, the Corps gives the public an opportunity to understand and vet the NEXT refinery and its related rail yard. Stay tuned for more ways to take action, with public comment periods likely in coming weeks and months.
Renewable diesel has strong potential to reduce impacts from vehicles and equipment that are hard to electrify and that burn diesel. Unfortunately, the NEXT development at Port Westward represents a stark case of poor site selection, worse planning, and untrustworthy project backers. “Wrong place, wrong plan, wrong project proponents.”
Let’s keep up the pressure to protect Port Westward, a critical bend in the Columbia River Estuary that supports world-class mint, blueberries, salmon habitat, amid a small but vibrant community that includes a Buddhist monastery.