A proposed Columbia River coal terminal suffered what opponents called a “nail in the coffin” when a Washington commissioner denied a sublease to a piece of state-owned land the deal relies upon.
However, Millennium Bulk Terminals LLC won’t abandon ship. Company officials said Thursday they will keep seeking permits to make the fossil fuel dock a reality.
The coal-by-marine export near Longview, Wash. — first pitched in 2010 — would send an estimated 44 million tons through the Columbia Gorge per year, a premise that drew an outcry from regional and Hood River conservation advocates, such as Columbia Riverkeeper and Friends of the Columbia Gorge.
The terminal would add eight coal trains running through the Gorge per day, Riverkeeper leaders said. Burlington Northern Santa Fe operates the train route on the Washington side of the river.
Millennium has argued the export facility would spur economic development while following state environmental requirements.
The company requested a sublease from Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which manages state-owned aquatic lands along the Columbia River, near the terminal site. The agency has authority to grant or deny subleases. DNR currently has a lease with Northwest Alloys, a subsidiary of Alcoa manufacturing company.
On Jan. 3, Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark denied the request by Alcoa. Goldmark sent a letter to Alcoa on Jan. 5 citing financial concerns: “DNR’s decision is based on Northwest Alloys’ failure to provide requested information regarding financial condition and business of Millennium as well as other factors that bear on the suitability of Millennium as a subtenant.”
Goldmark said, “DNR has not authorized Millennium’s planned infrastructure ‘upgrades’ related to coal handling.”
But Millennium’s plans are continuing.
“The decision today has no effect on the project moving forward and we look forward to permitting and operating a world-class port in Longview that will provide family wage jobs and tax revenues right where they are needed in Cowlitz County,” Millennium CEO Bill Chapman said in a Jan. 5 statement posted on the company’s website.
“The public knows from the actions of past Lands Commissioners that they have a proclivity for making symbolic gestures as they exit office,” Chapman said, referring to Goldmark’s upcoming retirement.
Riverkeeper applauded Goldmark’s denial of the terminal sublease.
“This victory over coal export shines a light on the amazing spirit of this community,” Brett VandenHeuvel, Riverkeeper executive director, said. “Dozens of dirty coal trains per week threatened the Gorge, but the people stood up to protect our river, our air, and our climate. With smart and persistent activism, the Gorge carried a lot of weight in defeating coal export.”
Northwest tribes also celebrated the decision.
“We will continue to speak for those things that cannot speak for themselves. We will continue to fight against fossil fuels in our homelands,” Yakama Nation Chairman JoDe Goudy said. “Today’s decision is indeed the final nail in the coffin of this project, but we must remained focus on projects that will continue to develop.”
VandenHeuvel acknowledged the matter isn’t over. “It’s time to celebrate … not to give up. They’re going to continue pursuing this but this is a major, major step along the way,” he said in a Facebook video.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.