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Sunday, June 4, 2023
June 4, 2023

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Appeals court upholds public records case ruling against Millennium Bulk Terminals


LONGVIEW — A state appeals court Tuesday upheld a 2018 ruling that the state Department of Ecology did not violate the state Public Records Act in a case involving the proponent of a giant Longview coal export dock.

Millennium Bulk Terminals sued Ecology in 2017, arguing that the department failed to properly release records related to its environmental impact study of Millennium’s proposed coal export dock.

A Thurston County Superior Court Judge disagreed in 2018, finding that Ecology searched adequately for those records. The state appellate court agreed with that decision Tuesday.

“We are pleased that the Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the Department of Ecology,” Ecology spokesman Jeff Zenk said.

Millennium officials declined comment, saying the ruling speaks for itself. So it was not clear whether the company will appeal.

It is just one more in a steady stream of court losses for the $680 million coal terminal project, which has been fought by environmentalists and some members of the medical community for about a decade.

Tuesday’s decision is relatively minor to the proposed coal terminal’s fate. It follows a January ruling by the state Supreme Court, which denied Millennium an aquatic lands sublease for the project.

The terminal would employ about 130 workers and take up to 1,000 construction workers to build, according to Millennium. The terminal would be located at the old Reynolds Metals Co. aluminum plant site.

Ecology and Cowlitz County released their final environmental impact study on the proposed terminal in April 2017. Citing that study, Ecology in September 2017 denied a water quality permit for the terminal.

In July that same year, Millennium requested records explaining the “data and assumptions” used to prepare the study. Millennium sued Ecology that December, arguing that the agency had withheld records.

Ecology sent its ninth and final installment of the records in March 2018.

The department sent a total of 377,000 documents over four different records requests made by Millennium, according to the appellate court’s findings.

Millennium then filed a new motion, arguing that Ecology failed to produce 26 documents. It also explained in further detail its request for “data and assumptions,” which it argued were necessary to validate the impact study.

A Thurston County Superior Court Judge denied Millennium’s motion and dismissed its complaint, finding that Ecology searched its files adequately and gave Millennium all the documents it requested. Millennium appealed that decision.

“We conclude that (Ecology) performed an adequate search,” the appellate court found Tuesday in upholding the lower court’s decision. In reaching that decision, the judges pointed out that Ecology spent nearly 800 hours in an attempt to comply with Millennium’s document requests.