BOARDMAN -- The crowd for an Oregon state meeting Tuesday night on a proposed coal train terminal was split between locals who largely supported the project and people from elsewhere in the state concerned about the environment.
About 260 people showed up, crowding the walls of the Port of Boardman meeting room and standing in line to be allowed into the room if anyone left.
Ambre Energy is proposing building the Coyote Island Terminal at the Port of Morrow in Boardman to transfer up to 8.8 million tons of coal per year from trains to temporary storage or to barges.
The barges would travel down the Columbia River to Port Westward dock in Clatskanie, Ore., to be loaded onto ships bound for Asia.
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Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility is asking that air and water quality permits be denied by the state until a health impact assessment is conducted, said Regna Merritt of the group.
Health care professionals are concerned about the elderly, those with asthma and others whose health might be at risk from coal dust, she said. It also is concerned about workers at the terminal.
Theodora Tsongas, an epidemiologst from Portland, said she was concerned about the likely contamination of drinking and surface water.
The Hood River City Council has passed a resolution opposing coal transportation in the Columbia Gorge, said Kate McBride, a councilwoman.
"We didn't make the decision lightly," she said.
Hood River is known for its water sports and more barge traffic will make that more dangerous, she said.
She was "shocked" by the state's answer during a question period before comments began that if a coal barge caught fire, it likely would have to be allowed to smolder and burn.
" 'Let it burn' is not a viable solution," she said. The gorge's 30 mph winds would put land and communities at risk, she said.
But Bill Kuhn, an attorney and Morrow County School Board member, said the district had seriously considered environmental aspects, determining that there would be no serious impact on children, before backing the project unanimously.
"I know the good it will do the community," he said.
Ambre has asked for no tax abatement, would provide up to 35 family wage jobs at the terminal and would voluntarily pay a fee to Morrow County schools that could be $300,000 a year initially and grow to $800,000 annually as the project expands, said project supporters.
"Today we have an opportunity to bring family wage jobs to Umatilla and Morrow counties," said Debbie Pedro, executive director of the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce.
Ambre has demonstrated a commitment to the environment, planning to unload railcars of coal completely inside enclosed facilities, she said. Coal would be stored indoors and moved from storage to barges on enclosed conveyor belts.
By all standards, the environmental protections on the project exceed those elsewhere, said Don Russell, a Port of Morrow commissioner.
He expects the coal to be sent to South Korea to provide low sulfur clean coal to replace coal now being imported from Indonesia, he said.