Ambre Energy remains optimistic about plans to export coal overseas through a proposed terminal at the Port of Morrow in Boardman, despite critics who accuse the Australian-based company of lacking transparency and financial stability.
The Morrow Pacific project would barge 8.8 million metric tons of coal per year for shipping to Asian markets, if Ambre can secure state and federal permits. Last week, the company agreed to another extension — its sixth — with the Oregon Department of State Lands on a “remove-fill” permit needed to build a new loading dock on the Columbia River.
Project spokeswoman Liz Fuller said the agency has requested more information about impacts to endangered species and tribal fisheries that won’t be available until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finishes a full biological review of the facility. The deadline is now April 30.
“Of course, we can’t get that to the state until we get it from the federal government,” Fuller said. “It’s not that we’re being delayed. We’re just working to get the information they’ve requested.”
Scott Clemans, spokesman with the Army Corps of Engineers Portland District, said an environmental assessment could be finished by spring. It includes consultation with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, which oppose Northwest coal terminals until further environmental review is done.
Other project opponents, like the Sierra Club, claim Ambre has failed to provide even basic information about the project to regulators. Cesia Kearns, co-director of the Power Past Coal campaign, also cited financial reports showing the company lost $30.7 million in six months through December 2012.
“The company’s significant debt, financial issues and disorganization is a bad bet for Oregon communities,” Kearns said in a recent statement.
It is not uncommon to report losses when investing in a project the scope of Morrow Pacific, Fuller said, and Ambre is counting on a profitable return on its investment.
An announcement in August also shows Ambre is no longer expected to buy the remaining 50 percent of the Decker Mine in Montana, which it co-owns with Cloud Peak Energy. Fuller did not discuss those negotiations, but said they continue to supply coal to a variety of domestic customers.
As for transparency, Fuller said they are going above and beyond to provide information and participate in the process.
“We feel like we’ve created a good project that will meet Oregon standards,” she said.
Morrow Pacific would take coal from strip mines in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana and ship it by rail to the Boardman terminal. From there, it is sent on covered barges to an existing dock at the Port of St. Helens near Clatskanie and loaded onto ocean-going vessels heading across the Pacific Ocean.
At $242 million, the project is expected to create 25-30 permanent jobs, 2,000 construction jobs and an overall economic impact of more than $300 million per year. Opponents of coal counter the dust and pollution will damage local air, crops and waterways.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality already issued three draft permits for air, water and stormwater protection. It will review public comment before issuing final permits.
Tova Woyciechowicz, energy community organizer with the nonprofit Oregon Rural Action in La Grande, said the negative impacts of coal far outweigh the positives.
“We’re talking about major impacts to rural economies, the environment and public health,” Woyciechowicz said.
Greg Smith, whose business development company is helping model the Morrow Pacific project outside of Smith’s role as a state representative, said he is counting on moving forward with increased investment from Resource Capital Funds, a private equity firm in Denver.
“We’re working hard to make sure we do this project correctly, Smith said. “It just takes time to put all those pieces in place.”
Contact George Plaven at email@example.com or 541-564-4547.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.