Columbia River coal comments a record for Ore. DEQ

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Oregon environmental regulators have been sifting through more than 16,000 comments about a proposed coal export terminal along the Columbia River, after the public comment period recently closed.

The input — most of it critical of the Morrow Pacific Project — came in by email, in person, over the phone and by fax.

Spokesman Greg Svelund said this project has generated the most public comments in the history of the department.

"We're breaking new ground, yes. Certainly for a public comment, I don't think anything really comes close to this," Svelund said.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is deciding whether to issue three permits for the terminal. For Ambre Energy to move forward with the project it must be granted stormwater, air and water quality permits for an enclosed terminal it plans to build in the Eastern Oregon town of Boardman.

The proposed export terminal would transport about 9 million tons of coal from the Powder River Basin by rail to Boardman. From there, it would be barged down the Columbia River to Port Westward and shipped to Asia.

Public comments on the project ranged from support for jobs to concerns about climate change. Roughly 80 percent of the comments opposed the project. Most comments came in from groups. Of all the comments the department received, about 500 were from individuals.

Next, Svelund said, the department will respond to comments that specifically address the project's permits.

The permits the department is considering do not involve many of the concerns environmental groups have raised. Speakers have expressed frustration during public meetings at the limited scope of the three permits.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the environmental review for the Morrow Pacific Project, along with two other proposed coal export terminals in the Northwest. (The corps announced this summer that it would not consider the region-wide effects of the proposed coal terminals.)

Columbia Riverkeeper announced Monday that it is suing the corps to gain access to documents pertaining to why the corps decided to not conduct a full environmental impact statement for the Morrow Pacific Project. The corps decided last fall to instead conduct an environmental assessment, which environmental groups say is a less thorough review.