Protesters rallied at the Washington Department of Ecology field office in Vancouver to remind the agency that opposition to the proposed methanol refinery in Kalama is unwavering although the public-comment periods are over.
Kalama resident Linda Leonard was one of about two dozen protesters outside Ecology’s office Tuesday. She said she’s not an environmentalist but that after learning about the proposed NW Innovation Works methanol refinery, she felt its impacts were too big to ignore.
“I will run this to the end, and I hope to God we can stop this Chinese conglomerate,” she said.
NW Innovation Works is a China-backed company proposing to refine natural gas into methanol mostly for export to Asia. Curt Hart, spokesman for Ecology’s Shorelands and Environmental Assistance program, said that if it’s built, it would be the world’s largest methanol refinery, capable of producing 10,000 metric tons per day.
The protesters briefly rallied in front of a small office park in Orchards, wearing red — the signature color of the anti-fossil-fuel movement — and giving speeches against the refinery. They also waved signs at the handful of cars that drove by.
When the protesters headed toward Ecology’s office, a woman who refused to speak with The Columbian told the group that it was private property and tried in vain to stop them from walking through the parking lot.
Cécile Gernez, of the Sierra Club’s Washington Chapter, was met at the door by the Ecology’s staff. She gave them a memo that she said explained where and how thousands of people commented on the project, along with a letter urging state officials to reject fossil fuel export projects.
“We wanted to make sure they understood the magnitude, because added all up, (the comments and petitions are) almost 19,000,” she said, noting that the agency received most of those comments already.
Keeping it relevant
Ecology spokesman David Bennett said there is no public comment period currently open for the methanol project and that no one in the Vancouver field office is involved in the work.
Gernez said the point wasn’t about appealing to agency employees directly involved in the decision, but rather keeping the rally relevant to the communities that would be affected. She said a twin rally against the project is scheduled in Bellevue on Wednesday.
“We wanted to make sure they understood just how many came in through the past year,” she said. “We also wanted to amplify our voice with the public, demonstrating with physical people power.”
Dave Bennett, Ecology’s Southwest Region spokesman, said Washington has always been a state where passionate people are encouraged to speak out on the issues that are important to them.
“It’s really heartening to see people engaged in conversation with their government,” he said. “We always listen to what people have to say and today’s no exception. … No one in Vancouver field office worked on (the refinery permit), but it’s an office for local folks that want to get in touch with Ecology.”
Hart said Ecology is reviewing the shoreline conditional-use permit for the project, which it should make a decision on within the next 14 days. The agency is also considering whether it should grant water-quality certification for a 3-mile pipeline, which would supply the refinery with natural gas.
People began leaving shortly after Ecology accepted the letter and a Clark County Sheriff’s deputy drove into the parking lot. Sgt. Fred Neiman said no one called to complain about the rally and no report was taken.