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Developing: NXTClean Fuels asks Port For Rent Reduction

Developing: NXTClean Fuels asks Port For Rent Reduction

NXTClean Fuels, also known as NEXT Renewable Fuels, Inc., has petitioned the Port of Columbia County to decrease its monthly rent following the accident that saw a tug boat run into the dock at Port Westward.

The petition requests that the monthly rent be decreased from $108,497 to $15,000. However, according to records provided to the Columbia County Chronicle & Chief by environmental nonprofit Columbia Riverkeeper, NXTClean Fuels has already paid a reduced rate for both December 2023 and January 2024.

The matter was brought before the Port of Columbia County Commissioners at their Feb. 14 meeting, though the commission will vote on the resolution on Mar. 13.

The materials presented to the port commissioners at the Feb. 14 meeting included a letter from NXT CEO and Chair Chris Efird to Port Westward director Sean Clark dated Nov. 27. Efird requested in the letter that rent payment be lowered in response to the damage done to Port Westward when a tug boat ran into the dock Nov. 12.

“Damage inflicted on the Port Westward Dock by the tow boat collision on the morning of Nov. 12, 2023, calls into question NXT’s ability to ever operate a refinery at the site as stipulated under its Ground Lease Agreement,” Efird wrote. “Given the unknown period necessary to bring the dock back into service and the inability of NXT to proceed with engineering until such time as the final dock repairs have been complete, this event renders any existing or estimated timelines void and additional development activities uncertain.”

The letter outlined that NXT has paid more than $3 million to the port in rent since 2018. One of the factors in NXT asking for reduced rent was the extended process of permitting, use agreements, and other factors that Efird said efforts in this area would “continue for most of 2024.”

NXTClean Fuels Director of Communications Michael Hinrichs said the rent reduction is retroactive to December 2023. Hinrichs also said the rent reduction request is partially because of the extended permitting process.

“The original site development agreement included a clause that increased the rent dramatically, which we’ve been paying for many years, because the original agreement was based on previous expectations of the permitting timeline,” Hinrichs said. “Permitting has taken longer, so we are asking to go back to the original rent and then pay a lump sum to the Port of Columbia County upon a successful Financial Investment Decision (which would come after all permits are approved to move to construction).”

Hinrichs said the Financial Investment Decision refers to whether NXTClean Fuels ultimately decides whether to go forward with construction after all the permits for the project are secured.

“We are requesting to revert back to the original lower rent and then ‘true up’ the difference in a lump sum following permit approval and Final Investment Decision,” Hinrichs said.

The Chronicle & Chief asked whether NXTClean Fuels would still pay the lump sum if the company does not decide to go forward with construction, but have not yet received response at time of press.

Needed permits and approvals

Regarding what permits and approvals NXT still needs, Hinrichs said “NXTClean has all of the key state permits.” On Mar. 6, the Columbia County Commission will rule on NXT’s final county permits.

“If approved, we will have all of our key state and local permits in hand,” Hinrichs said. “We are still advancing through the federal permitting process, and that is likely to be the last permit we need before moving forward with the project.”

The federal permit Hinrichs is referring to is the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) review process of NXT’s Clean Water Act Permit.

“The USACE will need to issue an Environmental Impact Statement for public review, then a Final Environmental Impact Statement, and then issue an order on approval or denial,” Hinrichs said.

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