LONGVIEW — A Cowlitz County judge handed Millennium Bulk Terminals and Northwest Alloys a small early win Wednesday in its challenge to the state’s denial of an aquatic lands lease for the proposed Longview coal dock.
At a preliminary hearing, Judge Stephen Warning agreed to Millennium’s request break the upcoming trial into two parts: In the first part, Warning will decide on the scope of the case and lay the framework for the types of arguments the parties can make. In the second part, Warning will decide on whether the state Department of Natural Resources acted legally when it denied Millennium a sublease it needs to build its $680 million coal dock at the old Reynolds Metals aluminum site.
Millennium wants to build a second dock on state aquatic lands already leased by Northwest Alloys. The companies had spent several years trying to get DNR to approve a sublease for the riverfront property, but former Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark denied their request days before leaving office in January.
In a letter explaining his decision, Goldmark argued that Northwest Alloys and Millennium failed to provide enough information about Millennium’s finances and about Millennium’s new sole owner, Lighthouse Resources. Goldmark also cast doubt on Millennium’s financial viability in the wake of volatile coal markets and the bankruptcy of its former part-owner, Arch Coal. However, Goldmark did not cite any environmental concerns with the project.
Northwest Alloys and Millennium want to limit the scope of the case to the issues Goldmark raised in his letter. But DNR wants to draw on all of its records leading up to Goldmark’s decision, which includes six banker boxes full of paperwork.
And a trio of environmental groups — Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club and the Washington Environmental Council, who are intervening in the case in support of Department of National Resources –want the court to consider the environmental issues that may have played into Goldmark’s decision, too.
DNR argued that dividing the case in two would unfairly limit the scope of its arguments and unnecessarily complicate the case.
But Warning agreed with Millennium and Northwest Alloys that determining the scope of the case in a separate hearing would help to make the case more efficient overall.
Also at issue is whether the DNR should be treated like a private party landlord in a normal real estate contract, or whether different standards should apply because it is a state agency managing public lands. Millennium and Northwest Alloys had wanted Warning to include that issue in the first part of the trial, too, but Warning said he could decide on the issue later.
The next hearing is slated for July 28, with the more substantive part of the trial to be heard in late October.
Millennium’s proposal to build one of the biggest coal terminals in North America is hotly debated. Environmentalists argue the terminal would exacerbate climate change by increasing the global supply of coal and generating 2 million metric tons greenhouse gas emissions annually. They also worry about potential for health risks tied to coal dust and diesel particulate matter from trains carrying the coal to the project site. Proponents say coal dust and diesel emissions would be controlled. They also say the project would offer a much-needed economic boost to the region by creating 1,000 construction jobs, 130 permanent jobs and $5.2 million in annual state and local taxes.
The state Department of Ecology recently completed a final environmental review of the project and the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers will release its own final environmental review later this year.