Environmental Review Paused; Feb. 24 Scoping Meeting Canceled
Northwest Innovation Works (NWIW) has requested that the City of Tacoma pause the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) environmental review process for the proposed methanol plant in Tacoma.
In response to this request, the public scoping meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 24 at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center was canceled. Any further notifications regarding this project will be posted here as they become available.
The following information will remain on this webpage to provide the background and progress to date associated with the proposal.
What is the status of the SEPA review given NWIW's announcement that it has suspended its application?
The applicant, NWIW, has decided to suspend its application for environmental review. As the SEPA Lead Agency, the City of Tacoma will treat the decision to suspend the environmental review as the applicant’s decision not to proceed with its current application. Just as applicants determine when they file applications, they can also determine not to pursue a filed application. While somewhat unusual, suspension of an existing application is not unauthorized.
What does this mean for the pending process and comment period?
During the period of suspension, City staff responsible for the environmental review will put their activity on hold. To the extent that staff continues to receive comments, they will be placed in the file.
Can NWIW file another application for review or try to reinstate this application?
What will happen if NWIW files another application for review or reinstates the current application?
If NWIW chooses to reinitiate the SEPA process at a later date or files a revised application, the City, as SEPA Lead Agency, will likely exercise its discretion in that role as follows:
1) A new forty-five (45) day scoping period will be initiated.
2) To the extent feasible, a thirty (30) day notice will be provided to all those initially noticed and those who have submitted written comments prior to beginning the new scoping period.
3) Comments received during the initial scoping period will be carried forward into the record of the new scoping period to the extent applicable. Applicability of previous procedures and comments will depend on whether NWIW makes any material revisions to its proposed project.
4) The City Council, as the City’s legislative body and in accordance with the City Code and Charter, does not participate in the environmental review process regardless of timing. In order to maintain regulatory neutrality, the City Council does not comment on pending environmental review.
More specifically, the City of Tacoma Charter and Tacoma Municipal Code (TMC) govern the roles of all those involved in environmental review and permitting. The Charter is essentially the City's constitution--its most fundamental governing document--and it covers multiple basic areas of law and responsibility for a municipal corporation in somewhat broad fashion. The TMC is enacted by the Council and is the City's more detailed governing body of law based on the authority of the Charter.
Often times, answering a question of authority entails both what the TMC and the Charter say and also do not say. In the case of environmental review, the authority for that review is specifically addressed in TMC 13.05 (Land Use Permit Procedures) and 13.12 (Environmental Code). TMC Chapter 13.05 grants broad decision making authority for land use review and permitting to the Director of Planning and Development Services (PDS). PDS staff assists the Director in that role. TMC Chapter 13.12 deals specifically with environmental review, what happens when the City assumes or is delegated lead agency status and how the review is to be conducted. Most everything in TMC 13.12 takes place against the backdrop of Revised Code of Washington ("RCW" state law) 43.21C, the State Environmental Policy Act and its corresponding regulations.
The Council is not designated a role in environmental review in the governing body of laws because, among other reasons, the decision is intended to be an administrative one for subject matter experts to make, not the policy making legislative body that is the City Council. The primary reason the Council does not comment on that process is to not unduly influence the process or even appear to influence it while it is underway.
Draft Scope of Work Released
As of February 23, 2016, the Draft EIS Scope of Work and Appendix 1 (the Draft Scoping Report) for the Proposed Methanol Plant project are available for public review and comment. The documents are posted below.
At the public scoping meeting on February 10, 2016, staff were available to answer questions before the meeting began. Some of the most frequently asked questions are included in this FAQs document:
In addition, there were several informational posters displayed at the venue. Those posters are posted below:
Finally, the Washington State Department of Ecology has SEPA guidance documents available at the following website:
Public Scoping Meetings
As announced in the notice posted above, the City of Tacoma has scheduled the following three public scoping meetings to provide information about the proposed project and to provide community members with an opportunity to comment on the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS):
1. (held) Thursday, January 21, 2016, 6:30 PM, at Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center, 1500 Broadway. The transcript and recording of this meeting are posted below.
2. (held) Wednesday, February 10, 2016, 6:30 PM, at Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center, 1500 Broadway. The transcript and recording of the meeting are posted below.
3. (canceled) Wednesday, February 24, 6:30 PM (This meeting originally rescheduled from Feb. 16 has been canceled, as mentioned above.)
Written Comments due March 4
In addition to oral comment, written comments will be accepted at the public scoping meetings. Comment forms will be available. Comments may also be e-mailed to Tacoma.Methanol.SEPA@cityoftacoma.org.
All submitted comments will be entered in the proposal's environmental review record as scoping comments. Written comments are due no later than Friday, March 4, 2016, 5:00 PM.
Northwest Innovation Works, Tacoma, LLC (NWIW) proposes to develop and operate a natural gas-to-methanol production plant and export facility on approximately 125 acres in the Port of Tacoma. The project objective is the manufacture and shipment of methanol to global markets for use as a feedstock for manufacturing olefins used in the production of plastics and other materials.
Through ongoing engineering efforts, NWIW has identified design features that allow for greater volumes of water to be reused throughout the methanol production process. These design features mean water usage at the facility will be reduced by approximately 28 percent to an estimated 10.4 million gpd. This is a decline from earlier preliminary estimates of 14.4 million gpd.
The City of Tacoma is the Lead Agency for the purposes of completing environmental review pursuant to the Washington State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Under state regulations at WAC 197-11 and Tacoma Municipal Code 13.12, the City has issued a Determination of Significance, requiring the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
The EIS is not a substitute for permit review. It is a process that develops information that is used to support permit review and development of recommended mitigation measures related to potential impacts to matters such as transportation, fire, health and safety. Key permits for this project include the City of Tacoma Shoreline Substantial Development Permit, Department of Ecology Water Quality Certification, the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Hydraulic Project Approval, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Sections 10 and 404 permits, and a Notice of Construction air contaminant permit from Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. The federal permits will likely involve a thorough review of waterway operations by the US Coast Guard.
This page will provide current information related to the preparation of the Draft and Final EIS, the public process for that EIS, schedules, and related documents.
Additional information can be found in the following documents:
Ian Munce, Project Manager