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Coal meetings draw big crowds


Hundreds turn out to support or oppose controversial coal project

Informational meetings about a proposed coal export project drew hundreds of people and lasted late into the night earlier this month.

Supporters of Ambre Energy’s Morrow Pacific project champion it as an economic force, a way to create jobs in rural, job-poor communities. But detractors have voiced concerns about threats to human health as well as extensive environmental damage.

Currently, Ambre Energy has two pending applications before the Department of Environmental Quality: an air contaminant permit and a water pollution control facilities permit.

The agency is in an information-gathering phase, said DEQ Spokesperson Marcia Danab. The three recent meetings, organized and hosted by DEQ, were held in Boardman, Clatskanie and Portland on Dec. 4 through Dec. 6.

In Boardman, 270 people attended, maxing out the room’s capacity, with approximately half in favor of the project and half opposed to it, Danab said. In Clatskanie, 165 people attended.

“We expected an even larger crowd,” Danab said, adding that, at this meeting, only a third to a quarter of the people were in favor of the project. The majority were against it.

“I think it was pretty clear,” said Shane Levy, media spokesperson with the Sierra Club, which has joined the environmental watchdog group Columbia Riverkeeper in opposing the Morrow Pacific project. “This community is overwhelmingly opposed to this project.”

He said several local fisherman told DEQ the barges would impact their ability to fish the Columbia River and a number of people voiced concerns about increased rail traffic through the area.

“People are really calling for a comprehensive review of this project,” Levy said. “It’s a massive coal project.”

He commended DEQ for holding the informational meetings.

Portland drew the largest crowd with a final tally of 850 people and an overwhelming 90 percent of those attending against the project.

All three meetings went late. DEQ employees often stayed until 10:30 p.m. answering questions.

The Morrow Pacific project seeks to freight up to 8.8 million tons of coal a year from Montana or Wyoming to the Port of Morrow in Boardman.

Ambre Energy has said it plans to store the coal in covered storage buildings at the port before shipping the coal by barges to a Port of St. Helens dock at Port Westward in Clatskanie. From there, the coal would be loaded onto ocean-going ships.