Murmurs: Renewable Diesel Seeks Plant on Columbia River

In other news: Big severance for comms director at Metro.

RENEWABLE DIESEL SEEKS PLANT ON COLUMBIA RIVER: Next Renewable Fuels, a Houston-based company that wants to make renewable diesel fuel out of fish guts, says it’s received an air quality permit from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to build a plant at Port Westward, Ore., on the Columbia River. After an 18-month review, DEQ determined that Next “is not a major source of EPA-listed hazardous air pollutants,” Next says. Getting the permit is a big deal because Oregon has some of the most stringent air quality standards in the nation, says Next spokesman Michael Hinrichs. The company hopes to complete the permitting process next year and start construction of its refinery soon afterward. Like biodiesel, renewable diesel is made from biomass like vegetable oil and animal fat. In addition to those ingredients, Next plans to use “fish grease” generated by seafood processors, most of which is discarded, Hinrichs says. The Columbia Riverkeeper opposes the project, saying the refinery would emit smog-forming compounds and bring the risk of fuel spills to the banks of the Columbia because the ground around the proposed refinery is often sodden and unstable.

BIG SEVERANCE FOR COMMS DIRECTOR AT METRO: Metro’s communications department is big—33 employees and a $5.4 million budget for 2023. The regional government also just paid its former director of communications, Neil Simon, severance of $141,000. That equates to eight months’ salary and benefits and is far more than the three months’ severance his contract called for. Simon resigned July 27, telling colleagues in an email that “it’s an honor to step aside to make room for another leader who may be a better fit for this department and its unique set of teams.” His payout echoes a City Hall practice of paying top managers more severance than they are contractually due. Simon, a former television journalist with extensive public relations experience in the public and private sectors, joined Metro last September and lasted just 10 months on the job. Metro spokesman Nick Christensen declined to answer questions about Simon’s severance. For his part, Simon says he “greatly appreciated the opportunity to work with Metro.”

CITY LEADERS PICK SIDES ON CHARTER REFORM: Now that a charter reform measure that could fundamentally reshape Portland city government is set to appear on the November ballot, campaigns for and against it are kicking into gear. The “yes” campaign has the support of a slew of state lawmakers, including Sens. Akasha Lawrence Spence and Kayse Jama and Reps. Maxine Dexter and Khanh Pham. It’s also scored the backing of a number of nonprofits, including the Urban League of Portland, Basic Rights Oregon, the City Club of Portland and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. Meanwhile, City Hall veterans are lining up with the opposition. Former City Commissioners Mike Lindberg and Randy Leonard have joined onetime mayoral staffers Chuck Duffy and Steve Moskowitz on the “no” side, while current Commissioners Mingus Mapps and Dan Ryan also plan to vote against the measure. (As WW previous reported, Mapps will debut an alternative measure this fall.) The “no” political action committee had raised $13,000 by mid-August, according to public databases. The “yes” committee has not yet filed with the state but tells WW it’s raised $183,000.

CAR THEFTS SURGE AGAIN: After three months of declines, car theft is back on the rise in Portland. July saw 867 vehicles stolen, 36 more than the previous month, according to a Portland Police Bureau dashboard that was updated last week. Last year set a 25-year record for car theft in Portland, with just over 9,000 vehicles stolen. This year is on track to be significantly worse. More than 6,000 vehicles have been stolen in the first seven months of 2022 alone. The Police Bureau hasn’t had an auto theft unit since 2006. The bureau did not immediately return a request for comment, but in a video posted to social media last week it noted a spike in Hyundai and Kia thefts after how-to USB hot-wiring videos went viral on TikTok.

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