Tribes oppose coal project

Shipping dock on Columbia called a threat to fishing

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PENDLETON, Ore. — The developer of a proposed Columbia River coal export terminal is facing resistance from tribes that argue the terminal's dock would interfere with their fishing rights.

Australia-based Ambre Energy wants to ship 8.8 million tons of coal per year down the Columbia River and overseas to Asia.

The Oregon Department of State Lands has until Aug. 18 to decide whether to issue a permit allowing construction to begin on the Morrow Pacific project at Boardman Marina Park.

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation is one of several opponents to the project.

Tribal spokesman Chuck Sams said the CTUIR position is unchanging: Treaty rights are not for sale.

Project advocates say the terminal would replace jobs lost when a nearby coal plant closes in 2020, and that they would pay the tribes up to $800,000 per year as part of the company's proposal. They attempted to publish a letter in the tribes' newspaper, the Confederated Umatilla Journal, but it was rejected.

Morrow Pacific CEO Clark Moseley then published the letter as a paid advertisement in several Eastern Oregon newspapers, suggesting a partnership with the tribes based on "mutual respect, shared benefits, collaboration and cooperation."

Publishing the letter in nontribal publications appears to be a divisive tactic to influence public sentiment, Sams said.

"We're saying, 'Tell us what we need to do to make this work for you,' " said Greg Smith, whose own Heppner-based economic development firm was hired to assist with the Morrow Pacific project in 2011. "But it's pretty hard to clear up any misunderstandings when we can't even communicate with each other."

The Yakama and Lummi nations also oppose the project, stating coal exports not only threaten their fishing rights but also pose a serious risk to the health of the river.

CTUIR Chairman Gary Burke wrote that the site is a productive fishing area, and tribal resources must be protected.

"Our creation story teaches us that we were created in this landscape, and it is our duty to take care of it," he said. "We have always lived here and we always will. Ambre Energy is simply passing through in the name of the almighty dollar."