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Columbia River Coal Plan Gets First Hearing In Boardman

Dec. 4, 2012 | Northwest Public Radio
CONTRIBUTED BY:
Courtney Flatt

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  • A barge being loaded at the Port of Morrow. The grain will be shipped to Asia, where coal could also be shipped. The first of three informational meetings was held Tuesday on permits required for the plan to barge coal. credit: Courtney Flatt
  • Oregon Department of Environmental Quality officials encouraged people to wave their hands in support of comments, rather than clap. More hands raised throughout the night supporting the project than opposing it. credit: Courtney Flatt
  • Morrow Pacific Project supporters passed out hats at the first of three informational meetings about the project. Tan hats scatterd throughout the audience. Project opponents wore red. credit: Courtney Flatt
A barge being loaded at the Port of Morrow. The grain will be shipped to Asia, where coal could also be shipped. The first of three informational meetings was held Tuesday on permits required for the plan to barge coal. | credit: Courtney Flatt | rollover image for more
Coal Logo FINAL_a

BOARDMAN, Ore. – A series of public meetings about a proposed coal export terminal kicked off Tuesday night in this Eastern Oregon town that hugs the Columbia River

Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality hosted the meeting to take comments and answer questions about permits required for the proposed Morrow Pacific Project. It would transport coal by train to the eastern Oregon port city. Then coal would then be barged down the Columbia River and eventually shipped to Asia.

Around 200 people came with questions for department officials. How would the department handle a barge fire? Had it ever received complaints of coal dust?

Port of Morrrow, Ore. Locator Map
Port Westward

Boardman resident Donald Gratin supports the terminal. He said Eastern Oregon needs jobs and tht he doesn’t believe environmental concerns are accurate.

“We hear all this about what’s going to happen to Hood River and The Dalles. We’re talking covered barges. It’s not gonna happen,” Gratin told the crowd.

Supporters waved their hands in the air when they liked someone’s statement. Environmental advocates voiced concerns about coal dust and climate change, at one point pulling out a bucket of coal dust to underscore that point.

Many people opposed to the Morrow Pacific Project asked questions related to a regional environmental impact statement (EIS). A regional EIS would look at the cumulative effects of exporting coal from all five proposed terminals in the northwest. The Army Corps of Engineers will decide whether to require a regional EIS. Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality only has authority to regulate what happens on site at the Boardman and St. Helens ports, officials said.

That frustrated some in the crowd, including Hood River resident Gwen Thomas.

“Repeatedly tonight we’ve heard about the narrow scope of what you have authority over,” Thomas said. “I’ve just been sitting here thinking about the dangers of just taking that into consideration.”

The Department of Environmental Quality will hold two more meetings this week: One Wednesday in Clatskanie and one Thursday in Portland.

The Oregon Department of State Lands, another state agency involved with permits required for the project to move forward recently added a third comment period, which began Monday. The Department of State Lands set April first as its new deadline for deciding whether to issue permits the company needs to build the terminal.

The Morrow Pacific export proposal is one of five separate initiatives to establish shipping terminals in the Northwest so coal from Montana and Wyoming can be delivered across the Pacific Ocean to markets in Asia.

One of those proposals is in the midst of public hearings. The project would transport coal by train through Spokane, down to the Columbia River, and then head north through Western Washington to unload its cargo at a terminal north of Bellingham. The next hearings for that project are Dec. 12 in Vancouver, Wash., and Dec. 13 in Seattle.

(Hover over markers to hear reports on coal in communities of the Northwest. Then click “website” for more EarthFix coverage. Click here for larger map view. Note: Train routes are approximations. They illustrate potential corridors based on existing lines and publicly available information.)

© 2012 Northwest Public Radio
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