Port of Longview commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday morning to end talks with an energy company that wants to build the first oil refinery on the West Coast in more than 25 years.
The $1.25 billion proposal from Texas-based Waterside Energy touted 700 construction jobs and 180 full-time jobs. Waterside's plan detailed a facility capable of refining 30,000 barrels of oil and 15,000 barrels of biofuel each day. The proposed project also included a propane and butane terminal handling 75,000 barrels per day. The plan also called for three additional trains per week carrying crude oil along the Columbia River.
The combined crude and biofuels refinery was an attempt to capitalize on the West Coast’s demand for cleaner-burning fuels.
That clean fuels component initially intrigued many, including some environmental groups and top state officials in Washington, but the financial and environmental fallout at the project backers' failed biofuels venture in Eastern Washington ultimately raised many doubts about their latest proposal.
Longview Port Commissioner Jeff Wilson indicated the port shared doubts about the financial situation of Waterside Energy and its two subsidiaries.
"Financially I'm not comfortable with the three entities," Wilson said.
Port commissioners said the company missed deadlines and failed to fulfill its obligation to the port.
A signed letter of intent between Waterside and the port required the company to provide certain financial information within 30 days. Port staff said those disclosures were intended to determine whether Waterside Energy had the financial backing to complete the project.
"This decision is not about fossil fuels," Port Commissioner Doug Averett said. "It's about the proponent not living up to his requirements and fulfilling his obligations."
After the meeting, Longview resident Les Anderson said he was pleased with the commissioners' actions. Anderson serves as vice president of Landowners & Citizens for a Safe Community, which has opposed other fossil fuel projects in the region.
"The community now can take a huge sigh of relief because this project was poorly conceived and pushed forward by bad actors with bad intentions," Anderson said.
Kelso, Washington, resident Linda Horst referred to the project backers' track record in Washington in praising the decision to reject the project.
"Bad people, bad partners for the port," she said. "What they proposed to bring in here is something that could either kill us immediately outright through an explosion or over time, incrementally by pollution.
Waterside CEO Lou Soumas said the company had already spent $1.7 million on the project.
“We’re disappointed in the commission’s decision,” Soumas said. He added that he thought port commissioners had made their decision before they voted at Tuesday’s meeting.
“They didn’t go into the meeting without a decision in mind,” he said. “They’re doing this stuff behind closed doors.”
Soumas said Waterside was pursuing other ports and landowners in Washington and Oregon in an attempt to move the project forward.