Cowlitz County has officially signed on to review the environmental impact of the Millennium coal terminal jointly with the state Department of Ecology and the federal Army Corps of Engineers.
Commissioners approved the joint working agreement Tuesday morning, which state officials said was the final step to make the partnership formal. All three agencies will now work together to develop one environmental impact study to make sure the project meets all county, state and federal requirements.
"This essentially memorializes the fact that the parties will all play well together and talk to each other throughout the process," Building and Planning Director Mike Wojtowicz told commissioners Tuesday.
"This provides one place that people will be able to look to and assess for themselves and ask questions and make comments," said Sally Toteff, Ecology's Southwest region director.
Millennium Bulk Terminals wants to build a $643 million coal export terminal on the former Reynolds Metals site Co. along the Columbia River west of Longview. It's one of five coal terminals proposed in the Northwest, including two across the river near Clatskanie.
State officials noted that Longview and Cowlitz County residents have been "very engaged" about the proposed coal terminal and they expect to receive lots of comments and questions. They stressed that the environmental review is separate from the cleanup of the site that also is being overseen by Ecology.
State officials did not have a timeline for the environmental review, saying the process had just started. No one expects it to be quick, though.
A similar coal terminal review partnership in Whatcom County formed in October of 2011 and held its first public comment session almost a year later in September 2012. Wojtowicz estimated Tuesday morning that it would take two years to finish the Millennium review.
The three agencies will hire a private consulting firm to handle the review and public comment process. The contractor will be paid for by Millennium. State officials did not have a cost estimate Tuesday, saying it would depend on the scope of the review.
There have been calls for a regionwide cumulative review of all five proposed coal terminals. State officials said Tuesday that if the corps orders such a review, the results could be incorporated into each site-specific review, noting that each site will have its own individual considerations that still must be addressed.