Upgrades to Longview’s rail system would allow trains to travel twice as fast to the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals coal dock and reduce traffic delays at busy crossings, a company official said Thursday at Lower Columbia College.
Peter Bennett, Millennium’s vice president for business development, said new signaling and crossing improvements could allow trains bound for the terminal to travel through town at 20 mph and avoid any stoppages. Motorists would wait an average of 4.5 minutes at each intersection whenever a coal train crosses, he said.
“You can almost think of our facility as sucking the trains into it,” Bennett told about 50 people attending the college’s noon lecture series.
A 30-year veteran of the maritime industry, the British native spent most of his hourlong speech on his career on vessels worldwide, but he also discussed Millennium’s efforts to redevelop the former Reynolds Metals Co. site into a $643 million coal terminal.
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The proposed project has drawn heated opposition from environmentalists and community groups. Opponents say they worry about coal dust drifting off the giant piles and from train cars, and they’re worried about increased vehicle traffic congestion at rail intersections. Millennium plans to haul coal from mines in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana and ship it to Asia.
A group of local government officials and waterfront industries have been meeting for the past year to develop a rail improvement plan, which could cost up to $200 million. Options include a second bridge across the Cowlitz River and grade separations at busy intersections, such as the one at Industrial Way and Oregon Way. A funding source has not been identified.
When asked if a new coal terminal would hurt the area’s quality of life, Bennett said no. The new terminal would be huge boost for U.S. trade and continue the rich industrial history begun by R.A. Long and his Long-Bell lumber mill in the 1920s, Bennett said.
“Absolutely, I think people are going to want to be here. Mr. Long built this site for business. ... All the good things here are dependent on having business. I’m happy to live in Longview,” Bennett said.
He said Millennium, which currently unloads a shipload of Wenatchee-bound alumina every six weeks, hopes to handle more than coal at the Longview site. Company officials are exploring options for other bulk products on the eastern edge of the property, he said.
Bennett said he believes a successful coal terminal would send a signal to other industries that Longview is a good place for maritime commerce.
“That will actually increase the value of the (industrial land) because people want to develop in a place where they see a chance to be successful,” Bennett said.