The coal project in Longview may not be dead yet.
Millennium Bulk Terminals and Northwest Alloys are challenging a decision by the state Department of Natural Resources to deny an aquatic lands lease for the project.
In a Feb.2 appeal filed in Cowlitz County Superior Court, Millennium and Northwest Alloys (Alcoa) challenged former land Commissioner Peter Goldmark’s assertion that the companies did not provide adequate information about Millennium’s financial standing. They also argued his decision infringes on their property rights. Northwest Alloys owns the old Reynolds Metals plant site where the coal terminal would built.
Just days before leaving office, Goldmark on Jan. 3 said he would deny Northwest Alloys’ request to grant a sublease to Millennium Bulk Terminals. Goldmark cited “a chronic pattern of failure by the company to provide essential and accurate information.” Goldmark questioned Millennium’s financial standing and viability in light of declining coal markets and coal company bankruptcies.
Millennium and Northwest Alloys argued that they have provided the department with ample information about the companies’ finances.
“Contrary to the commissioner’s contentions, in the lengthy six-year process of seeking DNR’s consent to sublease, NWA (Northwest Alloys) and Millennium have responded to numerous requests for information from DNR and cooperated by providing extensive information that demonstrates Millennium’s suitability as a subtenant under the lease,” attorneys for Millennium and Northwest Alloys wrote.
The attorneys argued that Goldmark’s “baseless” and “unreasonable” decision infringes on the property rights of both Northwest Alloys and Millennium. While Millennium doesn’t own the land, it already has operated on the site as an independent contractor for several years and owns buildings on the adjacent land.
DNR’s existing lease with Northwest Alloys expires in 2038. The current lease allows for up to three 220-foot docks. Millennium currently has one dock and proposes to add two new docks, two new ship loaders and an access trestle.
The terminal, which Millennium projects would create more than 1,000 construction jobs, 130 permanent jobs and generate millions of dollars in taxes annually, has been hotly debated here and across the region.
Because there is no formal method to appeal a land’s commissioner decision, Millennium’s only legal recourse was to file a lawsuit within 30 days. Millennium had previously contended the existing lease with Northwest Alloys was sufficient, but now the companies say the appeal is a cautionary measure.
“Northwest Alloys filed an appeal to protect its legal rights while we work cooperatively with DNR to reach a solution that would allow a potential sub-tenant for the aquatic lands lease,” said Mark Stiffler, presidents of Northwest Alloys, in a prepared statement Saturday.
Both sides of the lawsuit declined to say whether they would seek resolution outside of court.
Joe Smillie, Department of Natural Resources spokesman, said the department is reviewing how to move forward, but declined to comment on the pending litigation.
However, new Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz said in January that Goldmark made the “right decision.” She added, “I firmly believe the answer to sustainable, long-term revitalization of our economies is best served by looking forward to the development of new technologies that protect the environment, not backward to technologies that exploit it.”
Millennium doesn't expect the lawsuit will delay the project. So far, the Department of Ecology is on track to release the final environmental impact statement on the terminal by midyear. Millennium also is awaiting the release of final environmental impact statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“Peter Goldmark’s decision … created an unnecessary step, adding to the red tape and delay in what should have been a straight-forward administrative change. Despite his politically charged decision, our vision remains unaffected,” Chapman said in a prepared statement Friday.
“We are unwavering in our commitment to the people of Cowlitz County and we’re doubling down on our vision of bringing a world-class port to Longview by joining Northwest Alloys in filing this lawsuit. We are committed to doing everything within our power to protect the opportunity for family wage jobs in Longview,” Chapman added.