Port commissioners support plans to ship coal through county
by: Courtesy photo BY BARGE — Ambre Energy and its subsidiary Pacific Transloading hope to utilize dock space at the Port Westward energy park near Clatskanie to barge coal from the Powder River region to the Asia-Pacific market as seen in the illustration above. Ambre officials say any operations at the Port of St. Helens-owned property would be enclosed, citing environmentalist concerns over coal dust.

The Port of St. Helens green-lighted plans from two coal export companies to ship millions of tons of coal through the county during a packed public hearing Jan. 25.

Following testimony from proponents touting the need for increased economic vitality in the region to opponents who proclaim coal to be dirty and potentially unsafe, Port commissioners gave the go-ahead for both Kinder Morgan and Pacific Transloading, a subsidiary of Ambre Energy, to begin what is expected to be a lengthy due diligence process.

The separate projects would ship Powder River region coal through Port-owned land near Clatskanie for export to the Asian market, particulary China, to benefit from a rising demand for the fossil fuel.

Ambre's 'Morrow Pacific Project' wants to barge coal to Port Westward, while Kinder Morgan proposes using rail. The Kinder Morgan project would also construct a coal export terminal in the industrial energy park at an estimated cost between $150 to $200 million. That terminal would employ around 80 full-time jobs, Kinder Morgan officials say. Ambre says it would create an initial 25 family-wage jobs in Columbia County.

Scappoose resident Wayne Mayo is supportive of the projects, even if he believes Kinder Morgan should find a way to contain the rail cars carrying their coal. Citing concerns over coal dust, the company said it will spray its coal with a dust-suppression agent when it is shipped by train.

'I think it's a really good thing for us,' Mayo said. 'It's a tremendous opportunity.'

Some residents still have concerns about increased rail traffic, particulary those in Rainier where tracks cut the town in two. Trains must move at a much slower pace through Rainier than other cities in the county. Port Commissioner and Rainier resident Mike Avent was the lone dissenting voice on the Kinder Morgan proposal, because of concerns over congestion from rail traffic.

Environmentalists plan to continue to rally against the projects as officials work through the many required bureaucratic hurdles.

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