Rejected grant would have aided Port of St. Helens' goal for deep-draft vessel dock

Patrick Trapp.The Port of St. Helens on Friday, Aug. 22, was approved for a $2 million grant but denied for another grant of the same amount for dock improvements at Port Westward.

The request for grant funding, which requires the port to match 20 percent of the $2 million, was submitted through Connect Oregon V. Connect Oregon, a multimodal project of the Oregon Department of Transportation, awarded nearly $40.6 million in grants to 36 projects across the state. Money for the grants comes from the Oregon Lottery.

The port was turned down for a $2 million grant for its Berth 2 project, but awarded $2 million for its Berth 1 project, which is part of a larger $50 million to $70 million project expected to create up to 77 family-wage jobs, according to the port.

The $2 million the port requested for Berth 2 would have allowed larger vessels to use the facility.

“Both of these dock projects are equally important,” Patrick Trapp, executive director of the Port of St. Helens, said Wednesday. “Obviously, this slows things down. Ultimately, we want to have as much operational capacity at Port Westward as possible.”

Trapp said he was puzzled as to why the Berth 2 application was given high priority by committees that initially ranked all of the projects, but then turned down in the final phase.

The dock at Port Westward was intended to be part of the transit route for Ambre Energy’s proposed coal export operations at Port of Morrow.

Ambre Energy’s application for an infill-removal permit at Port of Morrow was narrowly rejected by the Department of State Lands last week.

It’s unclear whether Ambre will appeal DSL’s decision.

A representative for Ambre said the lack of grant funding for one of the dock improvements at Port Westward won’t have any impact on whether Ambre decides to appeal.

“Right now, Ambre is evaluating all of our options in terms of the appeal process and looking at our next step,” Liz Fuller, a spokeswoman for Ambre, said Tuesday. “We felt the denial was politically motivated.”

Fuller reiterated that lack of improvements at the dock will not affect Ambre’s decision on whether to try to move forward with its coal export operation.

In its review and funding decisions, the Oregon Transportation Commission said the Port of St. Helens application for its Berth 2 project grant didn’t rank as high in priority as the other projects it reviewed.

“The [Northwest Area Commission on Transportation] noted that the existing Berth 2 facility is structurally sound,” a report indicates. “The upgrades are only needed to accommodate larger vessels. The Port indicated that Berth 1 was their higher priority.”

Trapp said despite what the report indicates, the dock is not properly equipped to handle larger vessels.

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