Australian company has plans for coal terminals at Port Westward, Boardman

The Australian energy company that has been eyeing the Port Westward industrial park north of Clatskanie as part of a coal export project may soon be owned by a Denver-based investment firm.

Resource Capital Funds, a shareholder of Ambre Energy, is seeking to increase its stake in the company to as much as 55 percent. That would make RCF the majority shareholder in Ambre, effectively giving it control of its operations.

Liz Fuller, a spokeswoman for Ambre, said any change in ownership is unlikely to affect the company’s designs for the Pacific Northwest.

“The short answer is that we don’t expect any changes,” Fuller said Wednesday, Dec. 4. “And if anything, I think this signifies a deepening investment in the projects.”

Ambre has been trying to secure approval for a coal export terminal in Boardman, to which coal from Montana and Wyoming would be transported by train. The company’s Morrow Pacific project envisions that Coyote Island terminal being used to ship coal in covered barges down the Columbia River to a second facility at Port Westward, where the coal would be transloaded onto oceangoing vessels. It would then be shipped overseas.

The Port of St. Helens stands to gain $850,000 per year in port fees if the project is completed at its projected level of 3.5 million metric tons of coal shipped per year, while Columbia County would pick up about $787,000 in annual property taxes, according to the project website. The Port of Morrow and Morrow County would see similar or greater financial benefits.

But the Morrow Pacific project faces opposition, especially from environmental groups like Hood River-based Columbia Riverkeeper. Dan Seres, Riverkeeper’s conservation director, said the move toward new ownership is another reason for Oregon and Washington to look askance at the company’s plans.

“I think the shift in ownership reflects a real ... financial weakness in Ambre. Essentially, their investors are moving in to take over,” said Seres on Wednesday. “It’s increasingly clear that Ambre doesn’t have the traction it needs to move forward with these projects.”

Ahead of its annual general meeting Tuesday, Dec. 3, Ambre asked shareholders to accept the deal to increase RCF’s stake from 19.9 percent to 26.5 percent, with an option for the investment firm to convert a large standing loan to Ambre into shares to take up to a 55 percent stake. That resolution was approved by “an overwhelming majority of shareholders,” according to Fuller.

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