Stakeholders: MBT water permit denial threatens jobs, future investment

Stakeholders: MBT water permit denial threatens jobs, future investment
The Department of Ecology (DOE) has denied Millennium Bulk Terminals its water quality permit, and business and labor stakeholders say the move threatens Washington’s competitiveness and job market, while also sending a bad message to potential businesses. Photo: Mike Richards

Millennium Bulk Terminals’ proposed export facility in Longview has been denied its water quality permit by the state Department of Ecology (DOE), prompting members of the business and labor communities to sound the alarm over the decision.

Stakeholders argue that preventing major economic projects from moving forward casts Washington state in a bad light and threatens competitiveness, job creation and future businesses investment here – while DOE cites other environmental concerns as its basis for the move.

The proposed terminal has received strong support from the labor and business community. During construction, the project is projected to create 2,650 direct, indirect and induced jobs and $435 million in economic activity. The terminal’s operation would provide $2.2 million in state tax revenues, $1.6 million in county tax revenues and 135 jobs annually.

In July, Cowlitz County approved the project’s Critical Areas Permit, which ensures the terminal would protect neighboring fish habit and wetland areas.

On September 26, DOE director Maia Bellon sent a letter to MBT saying it was denying the water quality permit  due to environmental concerns over the project’s potential effects on air quality, vehicle traffic, vessel traffic, rail capacity, rail safety, noise pollution, social and community resources, cultural resources and tribal resources.

“After extensive study and deliberation… there are simply too many unavoidable and negative environmental impacts for the project to move forward,” said Bellon in an online statement.

DOE stated that MBT failed to demonstrate reasonable assurance that the project will meet water quality standards based on the company’s inadequate draft wetland mitigation plan. Also, DOE said the company needed to better verify its wetland boundaries and further define the project’s effect on the wetlands.

The permit would have allowed MBT to fill 24 acres of wetlands and dredge 41.5 acres of the Columbia River.

“Ecology appears to have intentionally disregarded decades of law defining the Clean Water Act to reject the water quality certification requested for Millennium’s project,” said MBT CEO and president Bill Chapman. “Multiple recent decisions by the agency seem biased against the Longview community, and particularly blind to the need for employment opportunities in Cowlitz County.”

On April 28, Cowlitz County and DOE released its final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which found that the project’s coal dust deposits would not exceed air quality standards. However, the statement asserts that the terminal would create traffic jams for commuters due to increased rail traffic, and that train diesel particles are likely to increase cancer risks for a nearby neighborhood.

The lead agencies also urged MBT to mitigate 100 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions stemming from the transporting, handling and burning of coal passing through the terminal.

“The Final Environmental Impact Statement, prepared by experts selected and overseen by agency staff, confirmed the ability of Millennium’s project to meet Washington State’s strict water quality standards,” said Chapman.

State Rep. Jim Walsh (R-19) also vocalized his concerns regarding DOE’s decision.

“I’m disappointed, but not surprised, by the Department of Ecology’s opinion. This is another example of bureaucratic red-tape delaying critical economic development.”

He added, “The key issue is that the Department of Ecology’s opinion makes it seem like rural Washington is not open for business. That’s a big problem. We need economic development in the parts of Washington state that aren’t in the greater Seattle area.”

The labor community also weighed in, calling the move an indication of the state failing at its duty to facilitate a fair and timely permitting process, which began five years and seven months ago.

“My brothers and sisters trusted that process thinking there would be a fair review of this and, frankly other energy projects,” said Lee Newgent, executive secretary of the Washington State Building & Construction Trades Council. “The state, by its actions, has effectively negated any hope of major infrastructure projects in and along the Columbia River and other parts of Washington state, whether it’s Millennium or Northwest Innovations.”

“And for my members, that is a very troubling testament to the state’s lack of interest in creating family wage jobs in communities outside of King County. This is as much about jobs as it is the environment. We have to have a balance if we’re going to create jobs here in Washington that can support a family,” he added.

Chapman said the company will appeal the decision, indicating MBT would look forward to a “fairer and more consistent interpretation of the law.”

“We remain confident in our judicial system, where the facts will be interpreted in an unbiased manner and this water quality certification will be granted,” said Chapman.

Walsh said DOE’s denial is weak on several points, and urged the company to work to reverse the decision.

“I’d really like to see us get past these hurdles and show that rural Washington is a good place to do business,” he added.

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