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Big Crowds Predicted For Coal Export Hearings In Oregon

Crowds are predicted Tuesday in Portland and Hermiston, Ore. for the latest round of hearings on one of the Northwest’s proposed coal export projects.

People have been turning out in big numbers throughout the Northwest to voice their opinions about proposed coal export terminals. So far, those hearings have focused on the Gateway Pacific coal project north of Bellingham, Wash. It was the first of the region’s three currently proposed coal terminals to be up for public input during the approval process.

The two other proposed export terminals — both on the Columbia River — are up next. Tuesday’s hearings are for the Morrow Pacific Project. Regulators this week announced a series of hearings that are tentatively scheduled for the fall on Longview, Wash.’s proposed Millennium Bulk Terminal.

READ Coal Scorecard: Your Guide To Coal In The Northwest

The Morrow Pacific project calls for nearly 9 million tons of coal to be transported via rail from Montana and Wyoming to Boardman, in eastern Oregon.

The coal would then be placed in covered barges and floated down the Columbia River to the Port of St. Helens, northwest of Portland. There, it would be transferred to ocean-going ships and sent to Asia.

What’s Next

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is holding two meetings from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday, July 9:

  • Hermiston: Blue Mountain Community College, Room 134
  • Portland: Oregon Convention Center, Rooms C 120 and C 125

The Hermiston and Portland meetings will be split into two, six-hour sessions. Up to 520 people will be able to provide oral comments, said DEQ’s Joanie Stevens-Schwenger. She said 450 slots have already been filled. You can register to speak here.

“I think we will allow for some observers (to speak), depending on the room size and how many people are there,” Stevens-Schwenger said. “But really our goal is to let the people who have signed up to speak have that opportunity.”

People will receive a scheduled time to provide comments. Thirty people will go into each room at their set time.

The Oregon DEQ is also accepting comments and questions on its website. The public comment period has been extended until Aug. 12.

Coal supporters say many people will be there to show their support.

“We expect hundreds of supporters to come out to hearings in both Hermiston and Portland. We also have thousands of comments that are being submitted to DEQ during the comment period,” said Liz Fuller, a spokeswoman for Ambre Energy, the company behind the Morrow Pacific Project.

The upcoming hearings represent the first opportunity for people to submit comments that will go into the record meant to help regulators decide the Morrow Pacific proposal’s fate. But it’s not the first time the public has been able to speak out on the project. Late last year, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality held informational meetings that drew hundreds of people.

The Morrow Pacific Project, also know as Coyote Island Terminal, needs three permits from the Oregon DEQ before it can be approved. The permits would regulate some of the construction and operations at the terminal. The permits would regulate:

  • Air quality impacts from the coal storage buildings, loaded railcars inside the terminal, the unloading station, transfer stations and a barge-loading chute.
  • Water quality, which would be affected by wastewater that comes from dust suppression systems at the terminal.
  • Stormwater that would flow from the construction site into surface waters. That would include runoff resulting from excavation and the stockpiling and movement of building materials and equipment.

“When folks come to our meetings, they have many things on their minds,” Stevens-Schwenger said. “But what will really influence what our permits say would be comments that are focused on the permits. … On the technical role of the permits. Are they protective of the environment?”

Coal opponents say they expect a huge turnout for a rally outside the Portland meeting.

“At that rally we planned a people’s hearing,” said Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky of Columbia Riverkeeper. “We feel like the parameters that DEQ has put around their scope of the Morrow Pacific Project, essentially just looking at the postage-stamp site down in Boardman, is inaccurate and doesn’t reflect the full concerns of Oregonians.”

The Army Corps of Engineers recently announced that when it comes to coal export terminals in the Northwest, it will not conduct a region-wide environmental impact assessment.

That was a major demand voiced by coal opponents at informational meetings late last year on the Morrow Pacific Project. It’s also been the goal for coal export opponents throughout the Northwest, where they’ve cited concerns about the area-wide effects of transporting coal from the Powder River basin to the proposed terminals, as well as the global impact of burning coal in Asia.

Tentative public hearing dates were announced Tuesday for a coal export terminal proposed near Longview, Wash. The Millenium Bulk Terminal would export 44 million tons of coal from Montana and Wyoming.

These scoping meetings are intended to help the Washington Department of Ecology, Army Corps of Engineers, and Cowlitz County decide what to consider for an environmental impact statement. Millennium Bulk Terminal meetings are scheduled for:

  • Sept. 17, Cowlitz Expo Center, Longview, Wash.
  • Sept. 25, Spokane Convention Center, Spokane, Wash.
  • Oct. 2, The Trac Center, Pasco, Wash.
  • Oct. 9, Clark County Fairgrounds, Vancouver, Wash.
  • Oct. 17, Tacoma Convention Center, Tacoma, Wash.

Between September, 2012 and January, 2013, about 125,000 comments were submitted in person or in writing on the Gateway Pacific coal export terminal proposed for a site north of Bellingham, Wash. Meetings in seven Washington cities drew more than 9,000 people. The public comment process was meant to inform government regulators’ determination of how wide-ranging their environmental review should be for the export plan.

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