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Cowlitz County and state officials are launching a study to further examine potential health impacts of the proposed coal export dock in Longview.

The study — the first of its kind for a project in Cowlitz County — will be conducted by state Department of Health under the direction of a steering committee made up of citizens. The committee will meet for the first time from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday in the Longview Public Library auditorium.

The committee members were invited to participate in the volunteer role after attending focus groups last year. The county declined to release the names of the people on the committee yet because that won’t be finalized until next week.

The separate health study is not a legal requirement for the permitting process for Millennium Bulk Terminals’ $680 million project. However, state officials say the study will address other questions about health that will not be covered in the state environmental impact statement.

“This is a project that will affect at least two generations of Cowlitz County residents. We want to make sure to look at the project from all angles,” said Dr. Jennifer Vines, health officer with Cowlitz County Health & Human Services.

This is the first time the county will conduct a health assessment, but it’s not a new concept in the field of public health to enhance community engagement in the development projects.

“We see this as the future of public health work,” Vines said.

The state and county recently completed a draft environmental impact statement on the Millennium project and did not flag any major health risks posed by the terminal. However, that study is designed to examine the environmental affects of the project and does not answer some additional questions about health, Vines said.

The committee will first have to decide which questions should be addressed in the assessment, and will be tasked with approving the final health report and recommendations, she added. The final report is expected in fall 2017.

“A common concern is that this will delay the project, but this is completely unrelated to the permitting process. This is purely a community-led process,” Vine said.

The committee will make non-binding recommendations to Millennium and policymakers to help reduce any potential health risks. Although it is not a legal requirement, the document will serve to inform citizens, policymakers and Millennium about the health impacts of the coal terminal.

Millennium will pay an estimated $200,000 for the health assessment, according to the county.

“Our performance record at Millennium on health, safety, and environment is a strong one. Any additional insight provided by the Health Impact Assessment will offer another valuable perspective into our job-creating project. We’re confident additional study will further validate the health and safety focus of our world class terminal,” Bill Chapman, President and CEO for Millennium Bulk Terminals, said in a prepared statement.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected release a separate federal study on the environmental effects of the coal dock next week.

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