ANOTHER VOICE: Coal export doesn’t belong on our river

Hood River is world-renowned as a recreation destination. We have tourists coming to our town from across the country and around the world — it is a unique and special place. Recreation is a significant component of Hood River’s economic makeup, and not just for people who make it part of their business like I do.

Many local residents and members of the community who work in technology and agriculture have also chosen to be here in large part due to the incredible array of recreation and Hood River’s attractive quality of life.

Bringing coal exports to the region, and through Hood River, will significantly degrade the attraction of our area and also threaten its economic vitality and the quality of life for residents and visitors alike; I am extremely concerned about the proposed coal export terminals that would allow coal trains and barges to travel through the heart of our community.

Transporting coal by rail already releases dust and chunks of coal along the tracks, and since the tracks run right on the water, we already have coal spilling into the river. The failure of the coal industry to contain it is a big deal — at this point any efforts at containment have been minimal and ineffective, and water quality is a key issue for my business and lots of others in this community who rely on our exceptional recreation industry to survive.

The increase in barge traffic also stands to harm our community, and the Gorge at large. If the proposed Morrow export terminal near Boardman is built we could see a 100 percent increase in coal barge traffic down the Columbia past Hood River. A dramatic increase in coal barge traffic, as proposed, will have a definite and significant negative effect on the economy of Hood River and surrounding communities.

If the attraction of Hood River’s natural amenities deteriorates, locals and visitors may become more skeptical about whether or not they want spend time in the river, which will directly impact our businesses and our community.

A big part of my business is paddle boarding, and many paddle boarders already travel out from the Portland area in order to escape what they feel is a significant health risk from the Willamette River. Whether or not that perception is real, it will hurt us to have people wondering about water quality of the Columbia River at Hood River; some people will just say, “I’m not going in that water.”

If there were a significant spill or a big accident with a coal barge, it could be Game Over for recreation in the Columbia River and the Gorge, and that would be devastating for our community. My business has been here 27 years. Like many of you, we’re invested in this community. If we lose the world-class appeal of our stretch of the Columbia, businesses like mine, as well as our entire community, will suffer.

If proposed coal terminals in Washington are built, we’ll see a dramatic increase in rail traffic that will hurt at grade level access to the river on both the Washington and Oregon sides. Every access point to the Gorge is across a railroad track, and the more locals and visitors have to wait at crossings as the train traffic continues to increase, the less attractive our community becomes.

The less attractive our community would be for those interested in recreation, the more people would go elsewhere, resulting in adverse economic impacts for Hood River.

Now is a critical time in determining if coal companies can export coal from Oregon. Gov. Kitzhaber and his state agencies are making decisions right now about granting permits for the Morrow coal port.

Join me in telling Gov. Kitzhaber that coal export doesn’t belong on the Columbia River, leave a message for him at 503-378-4582 or read more and send him an email at

Hood River’s residents and businesses should not pay the price for shipping coal from Idaho to China.

Steve Gates is a business owner and former Hood River mayor.

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