County sides with Millennium in coal suit, cancels health study

County sides with Millennium in coal suit, cancels health study

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Cowlitz County filed a request to a submit a “friend-of-the-court” brief Monday in support of a federal lawsuit against Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration for blocking Millennium Bulk Terminals’ proposed coal terminal in Longview.

The county is also cancelling a long-awaited health study due to the project’s uncertain status, angering opponents who say it would have confirmed that the project would have serious long-term risks.

The lawsuit, brought by Millennium’s parent company, Lighthouse Resources, Inc., alleges that state regulators have improperly denied key permits needed to construct the $680 million coal dock on the Columbia River. The suit also accuses members of Inslee’s administration of impeding interstate and foreign commerce and harboring a bias against coal.

In its brief, the Cowlitz County Prosecutor’s Office argues against the state’s claims that “multiple state and local decision makers have denied necessary approvals for the project for various reasons, including inability to meet the requirements of state and federal law.”

“We feel that the state has grossly exaggerated the (environmental) impacts” of the project, Cowlitz County Commissioner Dennis Weber said in a phone interview Thursday.

The county argues that as a decision maker, its local discretion was disregarded last November when Cowlitz County Hearing Mark Scheibmeir denied Millennium’s application for two key shoreline permits. In his decision, Scheibmeir concluded that Millennium failed to show that it could adequately compensate for 10 significant adverse impacts identified in the state’s environmental review of the project.

The county also asserts in its brief that it disagrees with the state Department of Ecology’s interpretation of the environmental review.

The county appealed Scheibmeir’s decision to the state Shoreline Hearings Board in December, but later requested that its appeal be dismissed and sent back to county jurisdiction. A decision is pending.

Meanwhile, the county will formally abandon a study on the potential long-term health impacts of the project.

In a March 26 letter, Assistant Long Range Planner Nick Fazio told members of a steering committee that continuing the study would be impractical because there is so much uncertain about the future of the project.

The study sought to answer 15 questions posed by the committee, which was comprised of people who support and oppose the project. The non-binding, voluntary study was not tied to the permitting process.

“Without a clear final project, it is challenging to identify the complete scope of analysis and recommendations,” Fazio wrote.

Regna Merritt, co-director of the Power Past Coal coalition, said the study would have confirmed that the project would have significant negative effects.

“This Health Impact Assessment would have expanded on what we already know about this project’s significant impacts to an already vulnerable community, including increased risks of lung cancer and respiratory disease,” she said in a statement to The Daily News. “To halt the process when it’s so close to completion does a disservice to the community and to committee members that had dedicated their time to the process.”

The official environmental impact statement for the project previously evaluated its health risks.

The county will convene a final debrief with the steering committee and evaluate the process and answer questions about the project’s Friday morning. The meeting will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. in the general meeting of the Cowlitz County Administration Building, 207 N. Fourth Ave. in Kelso. The meeting will be held in the third floor general meeting room.


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