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Commissioners hear update on coal terminal permit process

Commissioners hear update on coal terminal permit process

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A number of factors — including the need to be extra cautious in the face of public scrutiny — are contributing to the lengthy time its taking to process a permit for the proposed Longview coal terminal, Cowlitz County commissioners were told Tuesday.

Commissioner Dennis Weber asked for an update on the permit during Tuesday’s meeting. He said some have questioned how long the process is taking.

Millennium Bulk Terminals applied for the permit to build a $643 million terminal west of Longview in February of 2012. The consultant who will conduct the environmental review was hired last month, and public hearings are yet to be scheduled.

Several factors are in play, said George Raiter, the county’s interim Building and Planning Director.

First, the county, state Department of Ecology and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are jointly reviewing the permit. Three different governments with different procedures makes the process longer, but Raiter said it’s preferred because there will be fewer questions down the line. In 2010, for example, the county alone approved a previous shoreline permit for Millennium and the state then intervened with concerns. The permit was later withdrawn and resubmitted.

Raiter also said the intense opposition to the project is causing everyone to be doubly sure the process is followed correctly.

Usually, one local public hearing is all that’s needed for a shoreline permit, he said. But because there is statewide and even international concern about the coal projects, several hearings are planned across the state during the “scoping” phase to ensure everyone who wants to can comment.

The Longview project isn’t alone when it comes to delays.

A similar proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point near Bellingham first applied for a permit in 1992, with a final settlement agreement in 1999. Then, in 2011 changes were proposed that launched another round of environmental reviews. More than 9,000 people testified at scoping hearings in November and December, and a draft environmental impact report now is being prepared. Another round of comments will be taken after the document is produced.

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