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Port of Morrow, Wyoming also appealing decision against coal export site

Ambre Energy, the Port of Morrow and the state of Wyoming are all appealing the Oregon Department of State Lands' decision last month to deny a permit Ambre sought for a coal export terminal it wants to build near Boardman.

The Morrow Pacific project, as envisioned by Ambre, would center around two facilities it wants to build: the proposed Coyote Island Terminal in Morrow County, and a terminal at the Port Westward industrial park in north Columbia County. Coal would be barged downriver from Boardman to Port Westward, where it would be transloaded onto oceangoing vessels for export. But the project faces opposition from Gov. John Kitzhaber and many environmental and tribal groups, and DSL announced its denial of a removal-fill permit for the Coyote Island Terminal on Aug. 18.

Ambre and the Port of Morrow's decision to appeal was announced Monday afternoon, Sept. 8.

“We disagree with DSL’s decision. We designed the project to protect the environment while supporting the economy,” said John Thomas, a vice president at Ambre Energy, in a written statement jointly released by Ambre and the port. “We’ve done that, and we will prove that again through the appeals process.”

Ambre Energy North America's executive director, president and chief executive officer, Everett King, suggested the permit was denied because it was for a coal export project.

“It's pretty clear the politics of coal overshadowed this process from the beginning,” King said in the statement Ambre and the port released.

The port filed a separate appeal. In the joint release announcing the appeals, the port's general manager, Gary Neal, decried the “new regulatory precedent” he said the DSL denial created.

“We are appealing so that this political decision does not limit economic opportunity in rural Oregon,” Neal added.

Wyoming, where the coal that would be exported through Oregon is mined in the Powder River Basin, also lodged its own appeal of the decision.

“Coal is the fastest growing fuel source in the world and this decision by the State of Oregon prevents Wyoming coal producers from competing in that marketplace,” said Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, in a written statement from his office. Mead added that Wyoming intends to “stand up” for the coal industry.

The three appeals received the support of the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports, a trade group that backs industrial development in the region. Spokeswoman Kathryn Stenger said the proposed terminals “meet the high environmental standards our region expects.”

Environmentalists and tribal representatives opposed to the Morrow Pacific project have criticized the idea of transporting coal along the Columbia River. The river is a traditional fishing area for many Native people in Oregon and Washington.

“Ambre’s appeal is a last-minute and desperate attempt to just keep hanging on. Coal is too dirty and would degrade our salmon economy,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of environmentalist group Columbia Riverkeeper, in a written statement responding to the appeal announcement.

The Morrow Pacific project website states that initially, one four-barge tow per day would transport coal downriver from the Port of Morrow to the Port of St. Helens, moving about 3.5 million tons every year. That would eventually increase to 8 million tons per year, with two barge tows per day.

This story has been updated.

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