Real dialogue on the topics that affect Columbia County residents can be difficult to find. Even harder, the exploration of controversial topics, such as proposals to transport coal through Columbia County and temporarily store it at Port Westward facility, is too often compromised by virtue of the biases - political, cultural and socioeconomic - we bring to the discussion.

Next Wednesday, July 11, Columbia County Citizens for Human Dignity is hosting a "kitchen table" discussion regarding the proposed coal projects. As media sponsor for the event, The Spotlight is strongly encouraging Columbia County residents who have questions about the projects, or who believe there are too many gaps in their knowledge about how the community would be affected by the coal presence, to attend.

Here are the event specifics:

• When: Wednesday, July 11 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

• Where: St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church, 51555 Old Portland Rd., Scappoose

• Who: Sponsored by Columbia County Citizens for Human Dignity

Those invited to the kitchen table discussion include representatives from Ambre Energy and Kinder Morgan, the companies proposing to move the coal through Columbia County to Port Westward and beyond; the governor's office; environmental watchdog group the Columbia Riverkeeper; the Port of St. Helens; and a variety of state and national representatives as well as departmental decision makers.

With many-sided representation, we expect a well-rounded, truthful discussion to flow from the event.

"The goal of this forum is twofold: education and public debate," said CCCHD organizer David Scharf. "There has been a great deal of confusion about what is proposed and how those proposals would be reviewed and regulated. By bringing to the table proponents, opponents and regulators we want to help bring some clarity to a complex issue. In accord with our belief in inclusive democracy, we hope to create a needed opportunity to hear the voices of Columbia County residents, who would be most impacted by this project."

Additionally, the Spotlight has pledged to publish the answers to legitimate follow-up questions not addressed at the forum due to time or circumstance.

If you have questions about the projects or are trying to learn more about them and how you could be affected, please show up. Each opportunity for learning, especially about a topic as controversial as coal, should be embraced.

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