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Land Use Conflict Hangs Over Plan For Renewable Fuels Refinery On Columbia River

<p>PGE's natural gas fired electricity plant on the Columbia River near Clatskanie, Oregon.</p>

Flickr/Sam Beebe


PGE's natural gas fired electricity plant on the Columbia River near Clatskanie, Oregon.

A proposal for a $1.1 billion renewable fuels refinery on the Columbia River could be held up by a dispute over land use zoning.

Texas-based Waterside Energy has proposed a facility at Port Westward in Clatskanie, Oregon, that would make renewable diesel for West Coast buyers. Renewable diesel is a replacement for traditional diesel fuel that uses reprocessed animal fats and vegetable oils. Proponents of the fuel tout its lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The proposal estimates the refinery would generate more than 200 permanent jobs and $10 million in taxes for Columbia County.

“It would be huge,” said Douglas Hayes, Executive Director of the Port of St. Helens, which manages Port Westward. “It would be very significant. Really change the landscape of the county.”

Waterside Energy did not return calls for comment.

That project could hinge on the Port of St. Helens' attempt to convert 837 acres of agricultural land into heavy industrial use.

“As of right now, it would need the re-zone in order to be in place, in order to do a project out there,” Hayes said.

Environmental groups have been trying to block the port’s attempt to re-zone the land since before this latest proposal.

Their primary concern is the loss of farmland for projects that would ship fossil fuels such as coal and oil through the region by train and marine vessels.

“We are aiming to block the re-zone to protect Oregon’s farmland from the expansion of the industrial footprint and potentially from dangerous products like oil by rail," said Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky of the Columbia Riverkeeper, one of the groups that challenged the port's attempt. 

The port and environmental groups make arguments in front of Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals on Sept. 6.

Hayes says the port has to do a lot of due diligence on the project in the meantime.

The Port of Longview previously rejected a refinery and fuel export terminal proposed by Waterside Energy.

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Tony Schick