Thursday, September 16, 2021
Sept. 16, 2021

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Judge dismisses claims against DNR leader in Millennium suit

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LONGVIEW — A federal judge Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit against state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, whose agency declined a sublease for Millennium Bulk Terminal’s proposed Longview coal export terminal.

Lighthouse Resources, Inc., parent company of Millennium, and BNSF Railway in January sued Franz, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and state Ecology Director Maia Bellon. The suit accuses them of interfering with foreign and interstate trade by denying permits for Millennium’s $680 million coal dock.

Tuesday ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Bryan only dismisses the case against Franz and Department of Natural Resources, which she leads. The case against Inslee and Bellon will continue.

Lighthouse had requested a declaration invalidating the DNR’s sublease denial and an injunction limiting Franz’s discretion in evaluating future applications.

Judge Bryan, in dismissing the Lighthouse claim, said that overturning the state’s action “would force the state to accept structures on its own land. It would functionally prevent Washington State’s officers from exercising their authority over Washington’s sovereign lands.”

Aquatic lands — such as riverbeds and lake bottoms — are owned by the state, which can lease them out for docks, oyster farming and other uses.

Northwest Alloys leases state-owned aquatic lands in the Columbia River and requested the sublease from the DNR to allow Millennium to build an extra dock for its coal terminal, which would be built at the old Reynolds Metals Co. aluminum plant site. The DNR denied the sublease in January 2017.

Franz said in an email Thursday she is thankful the court dismissed “the baseless claims brought by Lighthouse Resources and BNSF Railway.”

“The state’s decisions in regard to this proposed facility were clear and lawful,” Franz added. “Those decisions were correct then, and they remain correct today.

We will continue to strongly defend those decisions.”

Millennium officials could not be reached Thursday afternoon for comment.

Dave Bennett, Ecology spokesperson, said the department does not plan on filing a similar motion to dismiss Lighthouse’s claims for Ecology’s denial of a water quality permit. The governor’s office also has no plans to file a similar motion, said Tara Lee, deputy communications director.

Thirteen states are involved in the federal case against the Inslee Administration. The states of Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota contend that Washington is blocking interstate commerce. The states of California, Oregon, Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts have entered the suit in support of Washington’s right to regulate activities on its waterways.

BNSF is involved in the suit because it would haul coal to the terminal in mile-long unit trains. Eight loaded and eight empty trains would come and go to the site daily if the project is ever built.

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