Hundreds of people attended hearings Tuesday in Hermiston and Portland on a proposal for a coal transfer terminal on the Columbia River at Boardman, some arguing the project will be an economic plus and others arguing it would be an environmental minus. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality will consider the public comments as it considers application from Ambre Energy to move nearly 9 million tons of coal a year, The Oregonian reported.
Ambre wants to build the first port in the Northwest to export coal from Montana and Wyoming to Asia. The coal would arrive at Boardman by train and be moved downriver on barges to the Port of St. Helens where it would be loaded on ships.
More than 500 people signed up to comment and about half of those actually spoke, said Joan Stevens-Schwenger, spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Quality.
She emphasized the hearings were to solicit public comment about the technical aspects of the requested permits, and the department is required to grant permits if Ambre follows legal requirements.
Proponents at the Portland hearing said the Ambre proposal would be good for communities along the Columbia River.
“They’re going to donate a percentage of coal to our schools,” said Diane Pohl, mayor of Clatskanie in Columbia County. “They’re trying to be good community partners.”
Some said they were worried about the impact coal pollution could have on their children and grandchildren.
“It’s one world, folks, it goes round and round,” said Chris Arthur, a retired psychiatrist and native of England who said she’d seen the impact of coal fields on a community’s health. “We shouldn’t be helping carbon emissions anywhere in the world. It will come back to bite us.”
Opponents said the department should expand its review of potential health and environmental hazards. Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky of the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper said the hearings are too limited and that DEQ should extend its review of the project to include the Port of St. Helens.
The company said countries including South Korea, Japan and China are clamoring for more coal to fuel growth and consumption.
“It’s unrealistic to expect if you say no to coal in Oregon, the demand is going to go away,” said spokeswoman Liz Fuller.
The comment period closes Aug. 12. Stevens-Schwenger said the DEQ doesn’t have a timetable for acting.
Ambre also needs approval from the Oregon Department of State Lands and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is waiting for impact statements from tribes, fisheries and the state historic preservation office.