Officials want appropriate regulatory process, coal trains or not

Roughly 70 people showed up at a Monday, May 6, Scappoose City Council meeting at the Scappoose High School auditorium to voice their opinions on the prospect of coal being transported through Columbia County.

Resolutions up for discussion included support of Ambre Energy's coal-export project pegged for Port Westward as well as a request for thorough studies to to measure and address the effect of coal unit trains on the Scappoose community.

A Kinder Morgan official announced Wednesday, May 8, that the company is pulling out of Port Westward, meaning no coal export trains will be moving west of Boardman.

But local and regional opponents to coal are still concerned about the prospect of barges transporting the product down the Columbia River.

Scappoose Mayor Scott Burge said that even though coal trains will not be going through the city, impact studies still need to be done before the council can make an informed decision in support of coal barges.

“When development does happen, we need to know about the impacts along the way,” Burge said. “[Barges] look like a better deal for the county in that they do create jobs that are needed and don't impact communities in the same way. I still think Ambre's project needs to meet all the regulations.”

Community members mostly spoke of public health issues with regard to the prospect of coal transportation.

“The cost of health is such a price to pay, I wonder if it's worth it,” said Scappoose Planning Commissioner and Farmer's Market Manager Bill Blank.

The council tabled the motion on the Ambre Energy resolution until more detailed research is compiled on the company's merits and the project's impacts.

Bethany Cotton, a representative from Power Past Coal, said Ambre Energy has a past fraught with dishonesty. “Two years ago, Ambre Energy misled the community of Longview when they were planning on building a coal-export terminal there,” Cotton said.

Cotton said Ambre Energy's initial application for Longview described a facility that would export 5 million tons of coal per year, but court records show the company hoped to expand the amount in a second phase to 20 million to 60 million tons annually.

Cotton added that Ambre's coal barges would create a 94 percent increase in barge traffic from current levels.

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