Returning to square one, an Australian company is withdrawing its shorelines permit to build a coal export terminal west of Longview and will resubmit another application after further study of the project, the company announced Tuesday.
Environmentalists declared victory, but they added that the fight over the controversial coal terminal likely isn't over.
Millennium Bulk Terminals announced Tuesday it will conduct an environmental study of how much coal, cement and alumina it can handle at former Reynolds aluminum smelter site, company officials said in a news release. Millennium, owned by Ambre Energy of Australia, had planned to hire about 70 full-time workers to operate the coal terminal.
The news release did not state when Millennium plans to resubmit its permit application to Cowlitz County. Bruce Gryniewski, a company spokesman, said Millennium would not make additional statements. Environmental studies of major industrial studies typically take months to finish. Millennium had hoped to do dock work in the Columbia River this fall, but that now seems improbable.
Cowlitz County Commissioner George Raiter said Millennium decision to yank its permit is "bad news" for Cowlitz County because the company had promised to clean up the contaminated site. He said he hopes Millennium will follow through with its plan to resubmit a new permit application.
"We need to have that site cleaned up. That's an environmental issue out there."
Millennium originally sought to bring 5.7 million tons of coal from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming to Longview, then ship it to Asia, mostly to China. However, internal company e-mails released in February indicated that its officials were planning to export 20 million or 60 millions tons of coal per year, a capacity that would dramatically expand rail traffic to the site.
The revelations sparked an angry response from environmental groups and area residents.
"The reason that we prevailed is that Millennium misled the public, so they had to withdraw. They wasted a lot of time and public resources with a deceptive proposal," said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Hood River, Ore.-based Columbia Riverkeeper.
Cowlitz County commissioners approved Millennium's permit in November. A coalition of four environmental groups, including Riverkeeper, appealed the project in December. An appeal hearing with the state's Shoreline Hearing Board has been canceled.
Last week, Millennium announced plans to delay transporting coal in an effort to obtain the permit to repair the aging dock and conduct maintenance dredging at the Reynolds site, which had been contaminated for decades by aluminum making. By finishing the dock work, the company had hoped to at least start importing cement and alumina, which would go to Alcoa aluminum smelter in Wenatchee.
Environmentalists and the state's Department of Ecology refused to drop the appeal.
"We believe this is the best way forward for both the community and the project. We remain sharply focused on creating jobs in Washington state and contributing to the economic recovery here in Cowlitz County," Millennium CEO Joe Cannon said in Tuesday's news release.
Millennium purchased the buildings on the 416-acre site from Chinook Ventures in January and announced plans to cleanup the site, which is highly contaminated by six decades of aluminum production. The land itself is still owned by Pennsylvania-based Alcoa. Arch Coal of St. Louis owns a 35 percent stake in the terminal project.