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Environment | Communities

Coal Export Public Meetings Are Drawing Northwest Crowds

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Note: This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. Thursday to reflect a meeting schedule change made by public officials after this story was originally posted on Wednesday.

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — It turns out a lot of people want to speak their minds on what it means for the environment to ship coal out of the Pacific Northwest.

A hearing in the Western Washington community of Mount Vernon drew so many citizens that organizers had to come up with a scheme to limit the number of people allowed turns at the microphone.

And on Thursday, officials announced that the were expecting more participants than they could accommodate at next week’s hearing planned for a community college gymnasium in Seattle — so they decided to scrap it — now it’s set for Dec. 13 at the much larger Washington State Convention Center.

The series of hearings all focus on whether governmental agencies should issue permits required for a coal export terminal at Cherry Point, near Bellingham, Wash. The agencies are required to hold meetings to gather comments from the public about possible environmental and health impacts.

Hundreds of people gathered in Mount Vernon, Wash. Monday to voice their opinions about the proposed coal export terminal near Bellingham. It’s known as the Pacific Gateway Terminal at Cherry Point. Trains could deliver as much as 54 million tons of coal each year to the terminal. There, it would be loaded onto ships and sent across the Pacific to Asia.

The Mount Vernon meeting was the third in a series of seven meetings slated throughout Washington. People who can’t attend the meetings may submit comments online.

Cherry Point, Wash. Locator Map

“What we’re seeking is information about specific impact on the natural or the human environment, especially a quantitative assessment, be it fish and wildlife, be it air quality,” said Scott Clemans. He’s with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is one of the permitting agencies.

Oregon officials are holding three public meetings in December as part of their permitting process for the Morrow Pacific coal export terminal in Boardman, Ore.

Several permits are under review for that project.

  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering a permit for the project.
  • Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality is considering an air quality permit and a water pollution permit.
  • Oregon’s Department of Lands is handling another permit.
Port of Morrrow, Ore. Locator Map

The Morrow Pacific terminal, also known as the Coyote Island Terminal, likely will need two other permits, said Nina DeConcini, Oregon DEQ’s Northwest Region administrator. One would be a stormwater permit during the construction of the terminal; the other would be a stormwater permit after the terminal has been built.

“DEQ’s goal is to write a scientifcally defensible permit that is also respectful of the timeliness considerations for the applicant,” DeConcini said.

She said the department wants to hear the public’s concerns about dust migration and possible discharges to water and air. The department is looking for information it might not have but that would help the department draft its permits. This would include technical reports.

(EarthFix reporter Katie Campbell contributed to this report.)

(Hover over markers to hear reports on coal in communities of the Northwest. Then click “website” for more EarthFix coverage. Click here for larger map view. Note: Train routes are approximations. They illustrate potential corridors based on existing lines and publicly available information.)

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