By Erik Olson
Longview Daily News
Regulators have received 163,000 comments on the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals coal dock west of Longview — likely the biggest public response to a project in state history.
The latest Friday count surpasses the 124,000 comments received by the state Department of Ecology early this year for a proposed coal dock in Whatcom County.
Ecology, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Cowlitz County officials are determining the scope of environmental study for the $643 million Millennium project. The deadline to submit comments is today (Monday).
Regulators don’t normally track scoping comments, but they conducted an unprecedented campaign to elicit public comment on coal terminals. Five hearings were held statewide for both the Longview and Bellingham terminals.
Millennium officials hope to export 44 million tons of coal annually from the proposed dock at the former Reynolds Metals Co. site. Regulators say they plan to announce the scope of review next year, which they will then use as a guideline to write an environmental impact statement.
By Mike Prager
Inland Northwest residents turned out in force in Spokane on Wednesday evening to persuade officials that a proposed West Side shipping terminal’s potential environmental impacts reach far beyond its site on the lower Columbia River.
“The environmental impact statement should include environmental impacts in Spokane,” Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart told representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington state and Cowlitz County at a hearing at the Spokane Convention Center. “Spokane deserves to know how these terminals would affect our quality of life.”
Millennium Bulk Terminals wants to build a $600 million facility in Longview, Wash., to ship coal from Montana and Wyoming to China and other Asian countries where it will be used mainly to generate electricity.
Officials are taking public comment on what should be included in an environmental impact statement required before the project goes forward.
Opponents cited concerns over health hazards, coal dust, traffic blockages, water pollution and global warming resulting from transporting and burning the coal.
“Do not be bringing that damn coal into my town,” said Dave Bilsland, of Spokane.
Environmentalists and other opponents of the terminal, many of whom were dressed in red T-shirts, dominated public testimony before a crowd of about 400.
Proponents, dressed in blue T-shirts, talked to reporters outside the meeting hall.
“This is a great project that brings jobs to this state at a time when we need jobs,” said Rich Hadley, president and CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated.
Ken Miller, president and CEO for Millennium Bulk Terminals, said his company is reclaiming an old aluminum smelter site, which will eliminate old smelter pollution sources as part of redevelopment of the site.
The company said the project will create 2,650 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs.
The 500-acre site might eventually be developed for commodities other than coal, such as fertilizer, Miller said.
Miller said he expects about eight trains a day to serve the coal port when it is completed. It is not clear how many of those trains would pass through Spokane.
Project proponents said the environmental study should not include impacts from Asian energy use.
Former Spokane Valley Mayor Diana Wilhite urged the agencies to move quickly on the environmental review so as “not to hold Washington hostage for what a communist country may or may not do.”
An environmental hearing for another proposed coal port, Cherry Point in Bellingham, brought a crowd of about 800 in Spokane last winter.
Courtney Wallace, a spokeswoman for BNSF Railway, said the Bellingham project might draw eight coal trains a day on BNSF lines through North Idaho and Eastern Washington.
Sightline Institute in Seattle said in a recent study that proposed coal ports could bring an additional 34 coal trains through the Inland Northwest per day.
Vanessa Braided Hair, of Lame Deer, Mont., told officials one of the mines is tearing up ancestral burial grounds of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in the Otter Creek area.
“I do not want my ancestral homeland to be a sacrifice zone for Asia,” she said.
By CAMERON RASMUSSON Staff writer
SANDPOINT — Strengthening a decision made last May, council members said thanks but no thanks Wednesday to state-managed herbicide treatments in recreational waters.
Members arrived at the conclusion after much public discussion, which included testimony from individuals both in favor and against the use of herbicides to combat weed infestations.
“I feel its important to continue our momentum in exploring alternative methods (of weed control),” said Councilman Aaron Qualls.
The decision followed an informal request from Thomas Woolf, aquatic program manager for the Idaho Department of Agriculture, for clarification whether or not last year’s decision affected all local recreational waters or simply the areas near Sand Creek and Windbag Marina under discussion at the time.
Council members determined that a new decision would be necessary for other recreational waters — specifically a proposed treatment area stretching from the Long Bridge to Memorial Field.
Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper executive director Shannon Williamson and program director Kelsey Brasseur supported the council decision to oppose herbicide treatments. They reported that the Waterkeeper office receives several calls and comments each week from individuals concerned over herbicide use.
“It’s important to emphasize that the city takes a stand for its people and waters and that it’s not just a sometimes-occurrence,” Williamson said.
Proponents also argued that herbicides might not be entirely effective or even necessary in areas with sparse milfoil infestation. According to Brasseur, contracted company Ace Diving reported that plant life was only about 25 percent weeds in the Windbag treatment area.
“Exposing recreationalists to herbicide residue is a high price to pay for a non-effective treatment,” Brasseur said.
Property owners in the proposed treatment region also attended to express concern over herbicide use. They also pointed out that many individuals used wells which drew from affected waters.
On the other side of the issue, resident and diver Christian Schwab indicated that while he hated chemicals, hand-pulling by divers was not particularly effective in his experience. That was backed by a letter read into the record, which stated that between diving, bottom barrier and herbicide treatments on private property, it was herbicides that were most effective.
Study will focus on potential health and safety issues
The effects of more coal trains rolling through communities like Spokane, as well as possible increases to global warming from that coal being burned in Asia, must be studied before a new terminal can be built near Bellingham, a state agency said Wednesday.
In a move hailed by environmentalists and condemned by business and labor organizations, the state Department of Ecology said the environmental impact statement for the proposed Cherry Point coal terminal on the north Puget Sound coast will look far beyond the immediate area when considering the effects of a new port.
The state will have consultants study the health and safety impacts of added train traffic throughout Washington to deliver an estimated 48 million metric tons of coal a year and the possible increase of greenhouse gases from the burning of that coal in China and other Asian countries.
Washington has laws that discourage greenhouse gas pollution and coal power, said Josh Baldi of the Ecology Department. The coal that is expected to be shipped out of the port could create more greenhouse gas pollution than is currently generated in the state.
But that doesn’t mean a permit couldn’t be issued, Baldi added: “This is largely about the disclosure of impacts.”
The proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal and several other new ports proposed for the West Coast have split the state. Opponents say the trains will clog rail lines and the coal will increase pollution and exacerbate global warming. Supporters counter that China will burn coal regardless of whether these ports are built, and American coal is less polluting than the softer coal the Chinese now burn.
Last year, the Spokane City Council called for a study of the effects of more coal trains coming through the city, but local businesses and the Spokane Labor Council support the project as a job creator. In December, about 800 people attended a hearing at the Spokane Fair and Expo Center on what the EIS should examine.
Muffy Walker, a spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers, said Wednesday the federal agency will confine its studies to the land and water around the proposed facility in Whatcom County.
The corps, the Ecology Department and Whatcom County are “co-leaders” on the environmental impact statement. But if the state refuses to issue its permits and the developer loses a court battle such a decision would likely generate, the project couldn’t be built even if it met federal standards.
Bart Mihailovich, of Spokane Riverkeeper, praised the state’s decision to look at the effects of increased train traffic throughout the state rather than just in the area of the proposed terminal. While some potential health effects can be mitigated, he said, there are questions about the costs of improving the railroad infrastructure to handle the extra traffic.
“This is what we asked for,” Mihailovich said. “We want to know what this means to Spokane.”
Spokane might not be among the specific cities studied, however. Consultants will study an undetermined number of “representative” cities and towns of various sizes and with different railroad configurations to create an index of potential impacts of noise, vibration, traffic congestion and health effects from coal dust and additional diesel fumes, Baldi said. Bellingham and Ferndale, which are close to the proposed site, will definitely be studied, but the other communities haven’t yet been chosen.
“We’re not looking for volunteers. We’re not studying every community along the rail lines,” he said.
The Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports – a coalition of manufacturers, shippers, unions and farm groups that supports the project and was pushing for an impact study limited to the area around the port – blasted the Ecology Department’s decision as a precedent “that could potentially interfere with international commerce laws protecting rail and trade and discourage new business investment in the state.”
Such far-reaching reviews might make it difficult for manufacturers to export almost any product and discourage developers from investing in any new port projects, members of the alliance said in prepared statements.
“This decision has the potential to alter the Northwest’s long and historic commitment to expanding trade, which today supports four in every 10 jobs in Washington state,” said Lauri Hennessey, an alliance spokeswoman.
Baldi said the precedent was not as far-reaching as some project supporters were suggesting and wouldn’t apply to every commodity that might be shipped out of a Washington port. Coal is special because of its end use and life-cycle costs, he said: “We look at each project case by case.”
Neither supporters nor opponents of the project have a chance to challenge the parameters of the EIS, which will take about two years to produce in a draft form that will then be circulated for public comment before being revised for a final version. The EIS can’t be challenged until it is final.
GUEST OPINION by Nate Holland
This winter will be my third Olympics as a snowboard competitor on Team USA. I’m looking forward to Sochi and this is the time of year that I should be 100-percent focused on off-season training, but something in my hometown of Sandpoint, where my brother and I own a water sports business is taking place that, as a professional snowboarder and a local business owner, needs all of our attention.
American demand for coal is declining and as a result, the coal industry still plans to extract billions of tons of coal from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and ship it to markets in Asia via proposed deep water ports in Washington and Oregon, where it sells for prices up to seven times higher than in the U.S.
Each day, more than 50 mile-and-a-half-long trains, laden with Powder River coal, will travel from Wyoming and Montana, thundering through hundreds of rural towns to ports in the Pacific Northwest, making noise, clogging traffic and leaving arsenic and mercury laden coal dust in their wake. The near-constant stream of escaping coal dust imposes toxic environmental pollutants and a myriad of health risks in the communities through which the trains travel. There is also a huge price to pay in terms of depreciation in quality of life and property values for the citizens who live in those communities. Why should these communities be forced to devalue their quality of life for big coal to make a profit?
As a resident and local business owner, the proposed rail route hugs the shoreline of Lake Pend Oreille for 30 miles before crossing over the lake by bridge! Open rail cars spill coal and spew coal dust, which contains heavy metals that affect water quality and clarity. A derailment over or near the lake would be catastrophic for our water supply, the ecology of the lake and our ability to fish and swim in it.
As an environmentally conscious professional athlete, I feel this problem extends way beyond Sandpoint and the Pacific Northwest. Opening our deep water ports to coal markets in Asia would ensure that billions of tons of coal found in the Powder River Basin deposit would find its way to Asia’s coal-burning power plants and eventually into our atmosphere, accelerating climate change and its impact on all of us, everywhere. If that coal is burned, it’ll exceed the emissions of the Keystone XL pipeline. For those of us who make a living when it snows, or who live in tourist-dependent mountain communities, climate change is terrifying.
Sandpoint is just one community that would be affected by the coal trains in the Pacific Northwest. So this isn’t really a local problem, or even a regional problem. This is a national issue of concern. American capital should not be invested in infrastructure that will simultaneously damage local environments, create health hazards and make the global climate crisis worse. Instead of building the deep water ports, all that capital, effort and attention should be focused on developing affordable, clean energy projects and long term jobs, right here at home.
I’m supporting a project called “Momenta” — a documentary film being produced by my friends at Protect Our Winters, the global nonprofit fighting climate change on behalf of the winter sports community. Look for it this fall and get involved in the fight against the coal train.
By CAMERON RASMUSSON Staff writer
SANDPOINT — The controversial issue of allowing coal trains to pass over Lake Pend Oreiile is set to receive renewed public discussion.
Gary Payton, who represented Idaho in the 50 States United for Healthy Air conference in Washington, D.C., delivered an update about the trip Wednesday for council members. His discussions centered on a planned expansion of the coal industry, which he said would result in 100 million additional tons of coal being shipped in uncovered containers each year over Lake Pend Oreille.
In April of last year, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing coal trains passing through Sandpoint. Payton’s report prompted Councilwoman Carrie Logan to consider discussing a second resolution renewing the city’s opposition.
According to Payton, it’s a gesture well worth considering. He said last year’s resolution spoke volumes when he sat across the table from Sen. Mike Crapo at the 50 States United for Healthy Air event in May. Payton told council members that Crapo was impressed with the unified stance on the issue expressed through the unanimous vote. Conversations just like that took place with many elected officials at the event, which collected ambassadors from every state to advocate for limitations on coal ash, air pollution and carbon pollution.
Payton said there are several points of concern in allowing coal trains through Sandpoint. First, the shipment via uncovered containers allows dust to blow into the air and the lake, resulting in air and water quality issues. He addedthat the danger of a train derailment into Lake Pend Oreille would be an ecological disaster of nightmarish proportions.
These objections center around plans to expand the coal industry by building new port facilities on the Washington and Oregon coasts, where vast quantities of coal would ship to Asia — primarily China. According to Payton, this would require dozens of additional trains per day, and all would pass through Sandpoint.
Not everyone saw eye to eye with Payton at the meeting. Sandpoint resident Christian Schwab argued that no trains had ever derailed over Lake Pend Oreille in the past and that the coal industry could be a valuable source of jobs.
If the council chooses to pursue a second resolution taking a stand against coal trains, the proposal will likely be discussed at one of next month’s council meetings.
POSTED BY ZACH HAGADONE
ON TUE, JUL 2, 2013 AT 9:37 AM IN BOISE WEEKLY ONLINE
Opponents of a plan
to ship vast amounts of coal from mines on the Montana-Wyoming border to as-yet-unbuilt ports in Washington and Oregon hailed recent decisions by investors to dump three of six proposed export terminals, but are still fighting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after the agency let it be known that it would not undertake a “mine to port” review of the remaining projects.
According to watchdogs like the Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper
in North Idaho that the Corps has ignored “thousands upon thousands of requests” to factor impacts like coal dust, diesel emissions and potential derailments to communities along the route—including in Bonner County—when considering approval of the necessary environmental review.
Inclusion in a plan-wide Environmental Impact Statement has long been the demand
of groups including Waterkeepers in Idaho, Eastern Washington and along the Columbia River—as well as national groups like the Sierra Club—but federal regulators have instead opted to concentrate on approval of the port projects on a case-by-case basis, focusing environmental assessment only on the communities in which they would be built.
That doesn’t sit well with the Pend Oreille Waterkeeper group, which issued a call to action in North Idaho on July 1.
“You may be thinking, ‘What's the use in continuing to share my personal concerns about coal transport through Bonner County when the Corps doesn't plan on listening anyway?’” wrote Pend Oreille Waterkeeper Shannon Williamson in an emailed action alert. “That's a really good question. The only way we are going to minimize the impact to North Idaho from coal transport is to shut down each proposal one by one.”
Specifically, the group is calling on Idahoans to submit written comments
to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality as it weighs air and water quality permits for Ambre Energy’s Coyote Island Terminal project at the Port of Morrow in Boardman, Ore.
The proposed port on the Columbia River would include a new dock capable of loading 8.8 million tons of coal per year—which would be shipped there in uncovered rail cars—for a 219-mile journey down the river for transfer to ocean-going ships, most bound for China, India and other coal-hungry Asian markets.
Meanwhile, according to The New York Times
, Native American tribes along the proposed route are "quietly lobbying" against the plan, while the Sierra Club and other environmental groups filed suit against the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway in early June, alleging that coal dust escaping from uncovered train cars has already damaged waterways in Washington state.
According to the Pend Oreille Waterkeeper: “The state of Oregon can protect our water and our lungs by denying pollution permits for Big Coal. Oregon has broad authority to review the full impacts of dirty coal on the entire Columbia River, not just draw a box around the terminal site. Lake Pend Oreille drains into the Pend Oreille River, which feeds into the Colombia [sic] River—we are all connected.”
By KEITH KINNARD News Editor
SANDPOINT — A district judge is affirming the Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s denial of a proposal to utilize biological controls to combat Eurasian milfoil in the Pend Oreille basin.
Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper petitioned ISDA last year to augment its rules to allow for a variety of bio-controls including natural predators, parasites or pathogens, but the department declined to do so.
In particular, ISDA declined to amend its rules to allow for weevil stocking because it involved reintroducing harvested milfoil into a body of water, which is against the state’s noxious weed law.
Under the LPOW proposal, weevils would be placed on the harvested milfoil and the plants would be reintroduced in an attempt to boost the population of weed-consuming insects.
Waterkeeper persisted and filed a petition for judicial review, arguing that ISDA’s denial of its rule-making effort was unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious.
Second District Judge Jeff Brudie heard oral argument on the matter in January and issued a written ruling on the petition on March 15.
Brudie said it was not within the court’s authority to determine whether it was allowable to transport invasive aquatic weeds in order to perform research or to beat back milfoil infestations. As a result, Brudie said he could only concern himself with whether the department acted unfairly in denying the rule-making petition.
“Based on the record before it, this Court is unable to find ISDA acted in an unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious manner in denying LPOW’s Petition,” Brudie said in his ruling.
Brudie held that the purpose of the noxious weed law is to prevent the movement of aquatic invasive species and allowing plants to be reintroduced would be contrary to the law’s intent.
Waterkeeper further argued that ISDA disregarded biological methods of weed control.
“The Court is not persuaded,” said Brudie.
Brudie noted that ISDA has a record of using biological controls when they’re shown to be effective. The ISDA also references the topic of biological controls in its long-term statewide strategic plan for controlling exotic milfoil.
Waterkeeper also maintained that its constituents’ substantial right to clean water was prejudiced by ISDA’s denial, although Brudie held that the group was unable to show it had any substantial right beyond the right to petition ISDA for a new rule.
Shannon Williamson, LPOW’s executive director, said the group was disappointed by Brudie’s ruling, but is not fazed or daunted.
Williamson admitted that winning the case was a long shot given the court would have to give great weight to ISDA’s determinations. However, she said the group is disheartened by the narrow focus of ISDA’s analysis.
Waterkeeper advocated for biological control research and implementation of all potential agents.
“The ISDA chose to focus their cause for denial on the logistics surrounding one particular method, the milfoil weevil, and we feel that the Judge’s rationale for upholding their denial of our Petition was misplaced,” WIlliamson said in a statement.
Waterkeeper said it intends to address the “real crux of the problem” — the noxious weed law. The group acknowledges it will be a difficult undertaking, but is optimistic that it can meaningfully engage lawmakers to underscore the importance of a diverse approach to controlling aquatic invasive species.
Williamson said Waterkeeper’s constituents have demonstrated they are heavily invested in supporting alternatives to herbicides through advocacy and fundraising.
“LPOW is committed to working on behalf of these constituents, we’re committed to clean water and we’re committed to seeing this through,” said Williamson.
By KEITH KINNAIRD News editor
SANDPOINT — Oral arguments on Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper’s effort to compel the state to embrace the use of biological controls in combating Eurasian milfoil are set for Wednesday in Lewiston.
Jeff Brudie, a 2nd District judge with chambers in Nez Perce County, is hearing the case.
Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper calls the proceeding another critical step in the water quality watchdog group’s journey to add biological controls to the Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s arsenal of methods for controlling the aquatic noxious weed.
Waterkeeper filed a petition for judicial review last year, after the ISDA declined to revise its rules to allow for the use of weevils to devour milfoil infestations in the lake.
Groups in Bonner County have advocated the use of weevils for the last several years as an alternative to herbicides. Partners for Milfoil Control subsequently raised $150,000 to conduct a research to demonstrate the insects’ efficacy in beating back milfoil.
But ISDA blocked the project because it involved placing pieces of weevil-laden Eurasian milfoil back into the water, which the state holds is expressly forbidden under Idaho’s noxious weed law.
Waterkeeper subsequently tried to have the state amend the noxious weed law to include the use of biological controls, but the group was rebuffed.
The group argues the agency misinterpreted the plain language of the state’s noxious weed law and disregarded its own goals regarding the use of biological controls. ISDA countered that it lacked permitting authority and harbored concerns about the use of weevils.
“The fact that the ISDA continues to focus their rationale for rejection of one type of biological control is beyond frustrating. We went to great lengths to ensure that our initial Petition was all encompassing with respect to various forms of biological control, including parasites and pathogens,” Shannon Williamson, executive director of LPOW, said in a statement.
ISDA has further argued that LPOW’s substantial rights had not been prejudiced by its decision. LPOW disagrees.
“LPOW’s constituents are prejudiced by ISDA because its decision to continue using herbicides to control noxious weeds directly relates to the purpose of LPOW as an organization, which seeks to defend the substantial and fundamental rights of its constituents to clean water,” Williamson said in an affidavit.
Counsel for ISDA do not dispute that biological controls have a role in noxious weed controls, but they have to be utilized under the right circumstances.
“It simply cannot risk further infestations by allowing the movement and/or introduction of viable noxious weeds into the very environment from which Idaho has sought to eradicate them, whether for research or for other purposes,” deputy attorneys general Angela Kaufmann and Sean Costello said in court documents.
Williamson said the group will lobby state lawmakers to bring changes to the noxious weed law if it does not prevail in court.
“This has been a long process and valuable learning experience. We don’t take the litigation lightly and only engage in this process when all other options have been exhausted,” said Williamson said in the LPOW’s statement.
By ADRIENNE CRONEBOUGH Kootenai Environmental Alliance
The largest coal company in the world, Peabody Energy, is hoping to build an export terminal north of Bellingham, Washington, so that they can export massive amounts of coal from Wyoming and Montana to countries like China and India.
The proposed Cherry Point
terminal would export approximately 48 million tons of coal per year, which would make it the largest coal export facility in North America. There are an additional four terminals being proposed in Washington and Oregon which would equate to between 126-166 million tons of coal being transported and exported each year. The coal would be transported by open rail cars from the Powder River Basin. These coal trains have serious implications for the environment and the public health of northwestern communities like Sandpoint
Today, Shannon Williamson, Director of the Lake Pend O’reille Waterkeeper
, spoke at KEA’s Lunch & Learn to raise awareness about the probable effects that the community of Sandpoint would see if this export terminal is approved.
The rail route hugs ~ 30 miles of Lake Pend Oreille’s shoreline before traveling directly over the water by bridge. Currently, Sandpoint sees ~ 50 trains per day. The proposed terminals would more than double train traffic, meaning that Sandpoint would see one train about every 12 minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Note that these trains are each ~1.5miles long with ~100 uncovered cars requiring 4-5 diesel engines each.Burlington Northern Railroad (BNSF)
calculated that coal trains lose up to 500 lbs of coal in the form of dust per car en route from mine to port. The coal dust will yield impaired water quality through the leaching of toxic heavy metals. Coal contains heavy metals: aluminum, antimony,arsenic
, barium, beryllium, cadmium, calcium, chromium, cobalt, iron, lead
, magnesium, manganese, mercury
, molybdenum, nickel, potassium, selenium, silver, sodium, strontium, tin vanadium and zinc.
Another concern would be the possibility of derailments; which Sandpoint has seen two of in the past year. A derailment over Lake Pend Oreille would poison a major supply of drinking water for the community and would have serious ecological implications.
Agencies are currently collecting public comments in their preparation of the Environmental Impact Statements for the Gateway Pacific Terminal in Bellingham, Washington through January 21, 2013. Please consider:Signing a PetitionSubmit Your Comments Online to Army Corps of Engineers, Washington Department of Ecology & Whatcom City Council