Millennium Bulk Terminals announced Wednesday morning it has completed the purchase of the Chinook Ventures' facilities in Longview, the latest step in the Australian company's move to develop the first coal export terminal on the U.S. West Coast and clean up the highly polluted site.
Millennium also announced a new U.S.-based partner in the project.
"We are doing this project the right way, and we have gone beyond the letter-of-the-law in the permit process. We are confident that we will successfully permit this project and create jobs and economic benefit for the area," Joe Cannon, Millennium CEO, said in a prepared statement.
Millennium did not announce the purchase price, but for the first time it put out a public estimate for its investment in the project, which Cannon said will be "in the low $100 million range."
Cannon said Millennium put up a new sign at the site Tuesday and has landscaped and spruced up the office area "to make a statement about where we want to go with this project."
The 416-acre riverfront site is heavily contaminated from 50 years of aluminum making by Reynolds Metals Co. The land is owned by Alcoa Inc., which bought out Reynolds in 2000. The smelting plant has been shut down for 10 years. Chinook Ventures, which brought the buildings and dock facilities through bankruptcy proceedings, has had a troubled record of complying with environmental rules.
In Wednesday's announcement, Millennium said it will clean up the site in accordance with state requirements. "We will cleanup and revitalize this property and ensure that it will have a very positive economic impact in the local area," Cannon said.
Millennium estimates the terminal will create 120 full-time jobs during the initial, 18-month construction phase and 70 full-time, family wage jobs during ongoing operations. That's about 20 more workers than currently employed at Chinook Ventures. The project is expected to generate $2.7 million in tax revenue during construction and $1.2 million in annual tax revenues during operations, Millennium said.
In a phone interview, Cannon said Millennium is developing a site cleanup plan with state Department of Ecology officials. "Once that is approved we will develop a schedule and meet that schedule."
Millennium will continue to import alumina at the site for use at Alcoa's smelter in Wenatchee, an obligation under the lease for the site the company is taking over from Chinook, Cannon said. Millennium, however, plans to tear down and replace "virtually everything that Chinook has built out here because it was not engineered the right way," Cannon said.
Cowlitz County commissioners have approved a shoreline permit for the terminal, through which Millennium wants to ship about 5.7 million tons of Wyoming and Montana coal to Chinese and other Asian markets.
Environmental groups and other critics contend the project is a poor use for a prime waterfront site and that the terminal will leave a trail of pollution caused by coal dust. In addition, they say that exporting coal to China, where it will be burned to produce electricity, will result in pollution wafting across the Pacific Ocean and contribute to global warming.
A coalition of groups has appealed the Cowlitz commissioners' decision to the state Shorelines Hearings Board, which is expected to hold a hearing in April and will make a decision by late June.
Millennium says it will take steps to control coal dust, and Cannon said that state will comply with all state greenhouse policies. Noting that all commodity production and trade produces greenhouse gas emissions through production, transportation and use, Cannon said "coal should not be treated differently from grain," noting that a large new grain terminal is under construction at the port of Longview. Asking Millennium to account for China's end-use of coal, he said, "is like asking Boeing to be responsible for Delta Airlines' greenhouse gas emissions."
Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, countered that it's "absurd" to compare the environmental impacts of wheat to those of coal.
"We're talking about a dirty coal terminal. They want to deflect attention away from coal because it is highly unpopular. So they are doing everything they can to change the subject and hide the ball when the real issue here is: Is opening up the West Coast to coal export a good idea? I think we need to address that issue head on. There (are) local and regional and global impacts, and it's not fair to the public to ignore those impacts."
In another development Wednesday, St. Louis-based Arch Coal announced it has purchased a 38 percent stake in the Longview terminal. Arch Coal, which says it is the second largest U.S. coal producer, said it paid Millennium $25 million.
Arch Coal says it sold 26 million tons of coal in 2009, providing U.S. utilities with the fuel for roughly 8 percent of the nation's electricity. It's holdings include 2.8 billion tons of coal reserves in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana, the region expected to produce the coal which would be shipped through Longview.