In a major blow to the proposed Longview coal dock, a Cowlitz County hearing examiner has denied two shoreline permits that Millennium Bulk Terminals needs for its $680 million project.
Hearing Examiner Mark Scheibmeir rejected the permits Tuesday despite Cowlitz County planning staff recommendations that he approve them with conditions.
Scheibmeir concluded that Millennium could not show that it could adequately compensate for 10 significant adverse impacts identified in the state’s environmental review of the project.
The state Department of Ecology cited nine of those 10 impacts when it denied a water quality permit for the terminal in September.
Those nine impact areas include: vehicle traffic, vessel traffic, rail capacity, rail safety, noise pollution, social and community resources, cultural resources and tribal resources.
Scheibmeir added a tenth impact — greenhouse gas emissions — when the company said it could not mitigate for all the global emissions generated as result of its project. A cradle-to-grave analysis estimated that the terminal would increase global greenhouse gas emissions by 2 million metric tons annually, according to the environmental impact statement.
Millennium instead proposed compensating for only the greenhouse gas emissions generated at the project site itself – 10,000 metric tons annually.
Millennium will appeal Scheibmeir’s ruling to the state Shoreline Hearings Board.
“The decision is based primarily on issues outside the shoreline area applicable to any new terminal or transportation project in the State of Washington,” said Bill Chapman, Millennium CEO, in a prepared statement. “Not allowing Millennium to use this industrial shoreline for a bulk materials terminal simply because there will be more trains on the tracks and more vessels on the Columbia River, makes a bold statement that there is no industrial or port use for this site, or for any other industrial port site in Cowlitz County or anywhere else on the Columbia River System.”
Chapman pointed out that the former Reynolds Metals Co. was historically used for industrial purposes and “had extensive train traffic and vessel traffic in the past.”
Opponents argued that Schiebmier’s decision and other recent permit denials leave Millennium with no clear path forward.
“This decision marks the fourth time that Millennium’s coal export proposal failed to meet local and state laws,” Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, co-director of the Power Past Coal Coalition, said in a press release. “Millennium faces insurmountable hurdles, and the company should end their coal export aspirations today.”
The county’s proposed mitigation plan called for the Millennium to create about 60 acres of wetlands north of the project site, rehabilitating about 14 acres of wetland and re-vegetating about 14 acres of upland buffer. The company also proposed developing a man-made slough by connecting a pond off of Dike Road to the Columbia River, creating a new fish habitat. In a long list of conditions, the county said in its recommendation that Millennium should implement a quiet zone to reduce train noise, and work with agencies to monitor and stop any potential coal dust emissions. (The state’s review found that coal-dust emissions would not exceed air quality standards for human health.)
Even after studying the 11,000-page EIS and listening to three days of public testimony, Scheibmier still pointed to nine “unresolved issues” that prevent Millennium from meeting the requirements under state shoreline laws.
Among those concerns, Scheibmier said there is still a question of whether Millennium has the right to construct the docks and engage in dredging (the Department of Natural Resources is attempting to block the construction). He also said there needs to be further analysis of the potential for coal dust as well as how vessel traffic would affect fish.
His decision caught coal proponents off guard.
“I was surprised. With the amount of information that was provided by Millennium and consultants ... we thought a lot of (Scheibmier’s) questions were answered very well in the hearing,” said Ted Sprague, president of the Cowlitz Economic Development Council.
Sprague said he is concerned that, once again, vessel and train traffic was cited as a reason to deny a permit.
“My overriding fear is that we are becoming so restrictive. Because an industrial site along an international shipping channel will increase train and vessel traffic, then we’re denying it. … What will we permit in this state?” Sprague said.
Mike Bridges, president of the Kelso-Longview Building Trades Council, said he was worried so many of the issues raised by the commissioner aren’t directly tied to the shoreline.
“After five and half years (of permitting), we’ve moved forward somewhat, but we’re nowhere near we’d like to be to get people back to work in the local area,” Bridges said.
Anti-coal activists celebrated the decision as a win for public health and safety.
“The Millennium coal export proposal runs counter to all of medicine, and the health and well-being of our community,” said Stephen Chandler, a Longview physician. “Our voices were heard by the hearing examiner, and I hope that his decision will finally stimulate our leaders to move forward with a healthy, productive and creative use of this precious river site.”
Tuesday’s decision is the latest in a string of setbacks for the coal terminal, which has been in the permitting process for six years at a cost to Millennium of $15 million. Before it can built its dock, Millennium must win its appeal of the state Department of Ecology’s denial of a key water quality permit. It must also obtain a total of 23 permits from local, state and federal agencies.
One sign of hope for company officials came earlier this month when a Cowlitz County judge found that the state was arbitrary and capricious when it denied a sublease needed for a coal dock. Yet Millennium will still have to bargain a compromise before it can actually get the sublease.