One of the proposed Port Westward coal export terminals near Clatskanie will nearly double barge traffic past Longview and will have "unavoidable impacts" on protected fish and habitat in the Columbia River, according to biological assessment of the project.
The report, written by civil engineering firm Anderson Perry in La Grande, Ore., was created for Ambre Energy as part of its Morrow Pacific project application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
According to the report, the project "likely will adversely affect" fish in the Columbia River due to construction noise, increased water turbidity, boat propellers and wake shallowing — when fish are washed ashore by ships' wakes with no way to return to the river. Some fish could be killed, but in most cases the impacts will not be fatal.
Potentially affected fish include salmon, bull trout, green sturgeon and smelt.
Freighters hauling coal out to sea could strike and kill marine mammals such as Stellar sea lions and several types of whales and turtles, according to the report.
The biological assessment is the company's view of the possible effects to federally protected fish and habitat. It is one tool used by the corps for permit review, but federal officials also conduct their own analysis, said Scott Clemans, a corps spokesman in Portland.
Ambre Energy plans to build a coal dock at Port Morrow, located along the Columbia River near Boardman in north central Oregon. Coal would be hauled by train from Montana and Wyoming to the port, then hauled by barge to Port Westward near Clatskanie, then loaded onto ships bound for Asia. It's one six proposed coal terminals in the west, including Longview and another at Port Westward.
If approved, the project is expected to dramatically increase barge traffic between Port Morrow and Port Westward. Work installing the dock and other facilities in Port Morrow also will have some temporary effect on fish, but the barges and freighters pose the biggest risk, according to the report.
At the terminal's full capacity, one to two four-barge tows will travel daily between Boardman and Clatskanie, for a total of 5,000 barge trips a year. (Barges are counted twice, on both the upriver and downriver trips). That would be a 94 percent increase from 2010 levels and would push barge traffic above historic levels reached in 1995.
Additionally, three freighters each holding 60,000 metric tons of coal would make the round trip from the Columbia Bar to Port Westward every week. That's a 9 percent increase from current ship traffic in the river.
Identifying risks to fish doesn't necessarily kill a project, but the information could influence permit restrictions to minimize the risk, Clemans said.
In addition to this report, the company also must submit a broader environmental assessment to the corps as part of its application. As for a time line for a decision on the permit, Clemans said the corps is still in the early process of determining its scope of review and authority over the proposal.