Benton County mulls supporting Columbia River coal exports

BNSF locomotive
BNSF locomotive Courtesy BNSF

The Benton County Commission is expected to approve a resolution endorsing the Millennium Bulk coal export terminal at Longview as part of its consent agenda May 17.

Consent items typically are approved without comment unless a commissioner asks to pull the item aside for more discussion.

Millennium Bulk Terminals Longview has worked since 2012 for permission to develop a three-dock export terminal on 190 acres at a 540-acre former aluminum smelter in Cowlitz County. At full operations, it could handle up to 44 million metric tons of coal annually.

The coal would arrive by rail from Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado.

A draft environmental impact statement is available from the Washington Department of Ecology. Comments are being accepted through June 13.Read more online at bit.ly/MillenniumBulk.

Local residents will have a chance to learn more in person and give their comments at an open house from 1-9 p.m. June 2 at the TRAC center in Pasco. Presentations are planned at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

The resolution before the Benton County Commission says the coal terminal will revitalize an aging industrial site, create valuable construction jobs, improve the environment by cleaning up the site, and will improve transportation infrastructure to the benefit of the cities and port district along the river, including in Benton and Franklin counties.

The Pasco Chamber of Commerce endorsed the project last week, in part, because BNSF employs 250 in the Mid-Columbia. Franklin County commissioners and the cities of Pasco, Richland and Kennewick have yet to discuss the issue.

Coal export projects in the Northwest have drawn fire from those who challenge the safety of transporting coal, as well as its impact on global warming. At the peak of the project, the Tri-Cities could see eight to nine more coal trains a day.

The Benton County board meets at 9 a.m. May 17 at the courthouse in Prosser.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected plans for a coal export terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County, saying it would violate the treaty-protected fishing rights of the Lummi Nation.