science environment

Oregon Denies Permit For Controversial Coal Export Dock

By Cassandra Profita (OPB)
Aug. 18, 2014 8:36 p.m.
Several Columbia River tribes asked the state of Oregon to deny a permit for a controversial coal export dock at this site in Boardman.

Several Columbia River tribes asked the state of Oregon to deny a permit for a controversial coal export dock at this site in Boardman.

Courtesy of Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission


Oregon regulators announced Monday they will not issue a permit for a controversial coal export dock in Boardman.

The announcement follows a fight between the Morrow Pacific coal export project developer Ambre Energy and Columbia River tribes over tribal fishing at the proposed dock site.

Oregon Department of State Lands director Mary Abrams said her agency weighed numerous factors before making the decision, including public comments, economic and social impacts of the project, and whether the project meets state requirements for protecting water resources, navigation, fishing and public recreation.

In a news release Monday, the agency announced it determined that the Morrow Pacific project "is not consistent with the protection, conservation and best use of the state's water resources, and that the applicant did not provide sufficient analysis of alternatives that would avoid construction of a new dock and impacts on tribal fisheries."

“As many people know, this permit application has taken hundreds of staff hours to review,” said Abrams. “From reading more than 20,000 public comments to carefully analyzing technical documents and plans, this application has been scrutinized for months. We believe our decision is the right one, considering our regulatory parameters laid out in Oregon law, and the wealth of information we have received from the applicant and the public.”

Environmentalists and opponents of coal exports are celebrating the decision.

"Today’s decision is a win for Northwest communities who are leading the fight against coal exports, and a historic moment for the whole country," said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director for Columbia Riverkeeper. "We can do better than mega fossil fuel export terminals and transporting dirty coal through our communities."

Gary Burke, chairman of the board of trustees for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, said he sees the decision as an affirmation of tribal treaty fishing rights.


“Today’s decision protects our rights to fish in the Columbia River as we have since time immemorial,” said Chairman Gary Burke, of the board of trustess for the CTUIR. “As stewards of our natural resources, we must stand up and protect the water, air and land now and for future generations of Tribal members and our fellow citizens of the Pacific Northwest.”

Liz Fuller, spokeswoman for Ambre Energy, said the company is considering its options at this point.

"We disagree with this political decision," she said. "We are evaluating our next steps, and considering the full range of legal and permitting options."

The Morrow Pacific coal export project needs a permit from the Oregon Department of State Lands to build a dock for coal barges. The project would ship nearly 9 million tons of coal from Wyoming and Montana to Asia. It would transfer coal shipments from trains to barges in Boardman, and load the coal onto ships at a dock in Clatskanie, Oregon.

Members of the Yakama and Umatilla tribes have told the state they fish at the proposed dock site, and they’ve asked the state to deny the permit to ensure their treaty fishing rights are upheld.

Morrow Pacific project backer Ambre Energy has disputed tribal claims and argued that the dock won't interfere with tribal fisheries.

Among other criteria, state rules say the permit can be issued as long as it “would not unreasonably interfere with the paramount policy of this state to preserve the use of its waters for navigation, fishing and public recreation.”

Julie Curtis, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of State Lands, said her agency weighed information from the company and the tribes, as well as more than 20,000 public comments before making a decision.

Members of the Yakima Nation protested the project by fishing at the proposed dock site in May. The state postponed the permitting decision from May 31 and asked both the tribes and the company for additional information.

In letters submitted since May, several Columbia River tribes have weighed in against the project, including Nez Perce and Warm Springs, as well as the Yakama and Umatilla.

The tribes have argued that the proposed dock and related facilities would destroy treaty fishing sites, and that the barge traffic generated by the project would impact tribal fishers elsewhere on the river.

Clark Moseley, president and CEO of the Morrow Pacific project, has argued that the dock will occupy a very small space in a location that is not used for fishing at all. He also questioned the state's authority to deny a permit at the site.