Tri-Citians can voice coal terminal views Tuesday in Pasco

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 29, 2013 

Tri-City residents will get their chance Tuesday to share their opinions about a proposed coal export terminal near Longview.

The third of five meetings on an environmental review for the terminal, and the resulting increase in train traffic, is scheduled from 4 to 8 p.m. at the TRAC center, 6600 Burden Blvd. in Pasco.

The proposed site, owned by Northwest Alloys-Alcoa and operated by Millennium Bulk Terminals, is planned for a location where Reynolds Metals Cos. operated an aluminum smelter from 1941 until 2000.

The Washington Department of Ecology and Cowlitz County are working on an environmental impact statement to meet state requirements. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working on a federal statement. Ecology spokeswoman Linda Kent said attendees can direct comments at any of the agencies.

"We're synchronizing and working together," she said. "All three agencies are looking at the comments."

The first meeting in Longview drew 1,300 people, and another in Spokane had 500 attendees, Kent said.

People interested in speaking will receive tickets when they enter and be chosen by lottery because of limited time.

"It's really to make sure there's an unbiased selection of speakers," she said.

Each speaker will be allowed to talk for up to two minutes. People who do not want to speak in front of the audience, or aren't selected, can speak to a court reporter at the hearing or submit comments by mail or email before the Nov. 18 deadline.

The meeting will include an open house where attendees can get information about the proposal, Kent said. She advises speakers to discuss potential environmental impacts of the terminal and recommend alternatives.

"The purpose is focused on scoping and what people would like to see studied or not studied," she said.

Colin Hastings, executive director of the Pasco Chamber of Commerce, said his organization wants to let officials know of their concerns over what precedent the rulings could set. Some area farmers fear the state is basing its decisions on the environmental impact of coal burned after being shipped to Asia.

"The state is making this into a global environmental impact statement on greenhouse gases," he said. "I think that sets a dangerous precedent. Who's to say they can't apply that to airplane parts down the road, or wheat?"

Opponents of the plan cite the 16 additional 1.5-mile-long coal trains that could come through Pasco and other cities each day and the diesel exhaust and coal dust they could bring, along with global warming fears.

Cathryn Smith of Pasco, who plans to wear red to the event in opposition, said she is worried about what will happen to people living near the tracks, as well as long-term damage to the Columbia River Gorge. But she adds that China should be able to supply its own coal.

"We need to start paying attention to the impact we're having on the environment," she said. "It doesn't make any difference where it goes, it all impacts us."

Madeleine Brown of Richland, who has started a Facebook page called "Allies and Friends Fighting NW Coal Exports," said she is grateful that a Tri-Cities hearing was set up for the Longview terminal. There was no local hearing during the scoping process for the Gateway Pacific coal terminal near Bellingham, which has completed the scoping period and is now in the draft environmental study process.

Tri-Citians should be careful of assurances from coal and railroad companies that they have secured the trains traveling from Wyoming's Powder River Basin, Brown said.

"That's fine unless there's a windy day or a derailment, and we know windy days here in the Tri-Cities," she said.

More information

Submit comments on the environmental impact statement for the Millennium Bulk Terminals by Nov. 18.

-- Web: www.millenniumbulkeiswa.gov

-- Email: comments@millenniumbulkeiswa.gov

-- Mail: Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview EIS, c/o ICF International; 710 Second Ave., Suite 550; Seattle, WA 98104

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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