Groups challenge Cowlitz County's approval of coal export facility

2010-12-13T17:45:00Z 2012-09-27T08:19:46Z Groups challenge Cowlitz County's approval of coal export facilityBy Erik Olson / The Daily News Longview Daily News
December 13, 2010 5:45 pm  • 

A coalition of environmental groups has appealed Cowlitz County's decision to allow construction and operation of a coal export facility at the former Reynolds Metals Co. site west of Longview.

In Monday filings with the state Shoreline Hearings Board, the four nonprofits argued that county commissioners had failed to complete a valid environmental impact study before their Nov. 24 decision to grant a permit to Millennium Bulk Logistics, a subsidiary of Australia-based coal giant Ambre Energy.

"The county commission rubber-stamped the permit and ignored their duty to act in the best interest of the community," said attorney Jan Hasselman of Earthjustice, the Seattle legal firm representing Climate Solutions, Sierra Club, Washington Environmental Council and Columbia Riverkeeper, in a written statement.

Hasselman added that the commissioners need to take a more comprehensive look at the environmental consequences of the project, such as increased train traffic through the Columbia Gorge, increased consumption of fossil fuels and the possible danger of coal dust in the communities during transport.

Millennium plans to export as much as 5 million tons of coal annually from Wyoming and Montana to Asia, mostly China. The company estimates the terminal would employ 71 workers, about 20 more jobs than provided by the current tenant, Chinook Ventures.

Port construction would add about 120 temporary jobs to the local economy and generate $3.2 million in tax revenue for county and state governments, Millennium officials said. Annual operations will pump $1.6 million into the coffers of state and local governments, according to the company.

Joe Cannon, Millennium's chief executive officer, said Monday the company had expected an appeal. He also addressed the issue of coal dust by saying Millennium plans to install a system to limit dust with water at all points of transfer.

Cannon also responded to the environmentalists' argument that the Longview facility would increase coal consumption worldwide, saying the Chinese are buying coal from whoever is selling.

"We feel like we've got good responses to their arguments," Cannon said.

Commissioners approved the permit for the terminal unanimously last month on the recommendation from the county's Building and Planning Department.

Millennium is planning to buy buildings and facilities on the 416-acre property from Chinook Ventures, a Canadian firm which has experienced numerous environmental problems while in control of the site. Millennium needs a county shorelines permit to replace dock pilings and upgrade an existing conveyor system at the old Reynolds smelter, where aluminum was refined for nearly 60 years.

Millennium officials say they expect to close a deal to replace Chinook as the site's tenant by in January. Alcoa Inc., which acquired Reynolds Metals in 2000, retains ownership of the land.

The Shoreline Hearings Board has 180 days to rule on the appeal. The board's decision can then be appealed to superior court.

Copyright 2015 Longview Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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