An estimated 1,000 people filed into the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds on Wednesday to make their best case for or against a proposed coal export terminal in Longview.
The meeting was the latest show of force for two well-organized groups that have packed similar gatherings across the state since last month. Opponents, wearing red shirts, decried the community and environmental impacts of sending coal through the Northwest and burning it overseas. Blue-clad supporters touted the plan they said would bring an economic boost to a region that badly needs it.
On Wednesday, red shirts appeared to far outnumber those who want the coal facility to move forward.
“It’s the most toxic fossil fuel we have, and we have better ways of generating electricity,” said Camas resident Rick Marshall, a real estate developer.
“This proposal does not benefit us in any way,” he said.
Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview, owned by Ambre Energy and Arch Coal Inc., wants to export up to 44 million metric tons of coal annually to Asia. The company’s plan is one of more than a dozen different coal- and oil-handling expansion proposals and operations roiling energy politics in the Northwest. It’s also one of three coal proposals in Washington and Oregon serving as linchpins in a much broader struggle between renewable-energy advocates and coal producers.
Ambre is based in Australia and Arch Coal is of St. Louis.
The Millennium facility would generate more than 1,000 construction jobs and 135 permanent jobs when complete, according to the company. Millennium President and CEO Ken Miller said 10 percent of his company’s current employees hail from Clark County. Should the facility move forward, it’s likely some of its new hires would, too, he said.
What’s more, the proposed coal export terminal would clean up an industrial site in Longview that’s now an environmental liability, Miller said.
“This project is a win-win for the state of Washington,” he said.
Cowlitz County, the state Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are hosting a series of meetings as part of scoping — that’s the process by which officials will determine what should or should not be included in environmental reviews.
Eventually, the agencies will create draft environmental impact statements spelling out the effects the Millennium proposal will have on land, air, water and the built environment.
More public input will follow, and reviews will be finalized. Regulators will consult those impartial, fact-filled reference documents as they later consider whether to grant permits to Millennium’s vision of Southwest Washington as a transfer hub for coal.
Wednesday’s gathering at the fairgrounds actually consisted of two separate hearings: one in the afternoon, and one in the evening. In between comment periods, both groups staged spirited rallies firing up their supporters.
Washougal City Councilor Paul Greenlee was the first to speak in the afternoon. He said increased coal-train traffic will have major impacts on the town’s retail center and public safety services.
“It will cut us in half,” he said, adding that the city also is concerned about coal dust and other pollution issues.
“We have no way to evaluate that,” he said. “We depend on you.”
Among the Millennium supporters in the crowd was Washougal resident Dave Ritchey, of Laborers Union Local 335. The case for the terminal is simple, he said.
“It’s about the jobs, the economy,” Ritchey said. “We need the jobs.”
The afternoon session drew a relatively small crowd in a space set up for 2,500 people. It wasn’t until evening that close to 1,000 attendees filled a sizable portion of the room.
That’s the second-largest turnout among the four meetings held so far. The first, in Longview, drew an estimated attendance of 1,300, according to Department of Ecology spokeswoman Linda Kent.
Before Wednesday, officials had received more than 14,700 comments, Kent said.
The next scoping meeting will be held on Oct. 17 at the Tacoma Convention Center. The scoping period for Millennium’s proposal wraps up on Nov. 18.
Scoping meetings already have been held in Longview, Spokane and Pasco. People don’t have to attend scoping meetings to remark on Millennium’s proposal. They may comment at any time during the 95-day comment period. Some options are available 24 hours a day, including: the official environmental impact statement website, www.millenniumbulkeiswa.gov; email: email@example.com; and mail: Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview EIS, c/o ICF International, 710 Second Ave., Suite 550, Seattle, WA 98104.