Stakeholders say Millennium permit denial endangers business climate

Dock extending into Columbia River
The Cowlitz County Hearing Examiner denied Millennium Bulk Terminals its shoreline permit required for its export terminal project. Stakeholders argue the move sends a negative message to potential businesses who might invest in Washington. Photo: Mike Richards

The Cowlitz County Hearings Examiner this week denied Millennium Bulk Terminals its Shoreline Permit for its proposed export terminal in Longview. Labor and business stakeholders say the decision wrongly considers aspects outside of the permit itself, and the ruling will discourage companies looking to move to and operate out of the state.

The hearing examiner, however, said in a letter this week that the company failed to offer sufficient mitigation plans for the project’s potential negative effects, and that such plans are necessary for permit approval.

The terminal would bolster economic activity and local, family-wage job creation. During its construction, the project would provide 2,650 direct, indirect, and induced jobs and $435 million in economic activity. Once operational, the terminal would provide 135 jobs annually, $2.2 million in state tax revenues and $1.6 million in county tax revenues.

The shoreline permit would be the company’s second to be denied. Last month, the state Department of Ecology denied the company’s water quality permit because of its potential effects on air quality, vehicle traffic, vessel traffic, rail capacity, rail safety, noise pollution, social and community resources, cultural resources and tribal resources.

In his letter justifying the denial, the Cowlitz County Hearings Examiner wrote: “Although I reach the same conclusion as Ecology I do so through a different analysis. Ecology reached its decision by examining the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and concluding that the listed unavoidable and significant adverse impacts could not be mitigated.”

He reasoned the company and the County had ample time to offer mitigation techniques.

“As the unchallenged FEIS concludes that the Project has many unavoidable, significant adverse impacts, and as the parties have failed to provide reasonable mitigation, the Shoreline Permits must be denied.”

In April, Cowlitz County and Ecology released its FEIS, which urged MBT to mitigate for 100 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions stemming from the handling and passage of coal moving through the terminal.

The project’s proponents have argued that the order to mitigate for worldwide greenhouse gas emissions is an unprecedented regulatory overreach, and would have a chilling effect on potential businesses who may wish to locate to Washington, providing much needed jobs and infrastructure investment.

According to MBT President and CEO Bill Chapman, the project falls within the goals of the Shoreline Management Act and Ecology’s Shoreline Management Program, both of which strive to maintain public shore and water access for future generations.

“The permits should be approved since the site has been used for industrial purposes for decades and has had extensive train traffic and vessel traffic in the past,” said Chapman. “Any suitable use of this shoreline location should be leveraging the existing rail and vessel access. To do otherwise would be patently inconsistent with the Shoreline Management Act and the Shoreline Management Plan.”

Chapman said the examiner’s decision was based outside of the shoreline area. He argued this mindset would be dangerous for related economic development projects in Washington.

“Not allowing Millennium to use this industrial shoreline for a bulk materials terminal simply because there will be more trains on the tracks and more vessels on the Columbia River, makes a bold statement that there is no industrial or port use for this site, or for any other industrial port site in Cowlitz County or anywhere else on the Columbia River System,” he said.

Mike Bridges, President of the Longview/Kelso Building and Construction Trades Council, agreed with Chapman.

“We had hoped that the hearing examiner would base his decision exclusively on the issues related to the Shoreline Permit, but it appears it was based on many other factors that are not within Millennium’s control. Although I appreciate his desire to be thorough, the permitting process is truly broken if the granting of any one permit is contingent on the evaluation of other factors not properly within the scope of the permit hearing.”

Bridges said the labor community would like to see a fair and predictable process that “shows Washington is open for business.”

“We encourage strong environmental and safety regulations because we live here,” he added. “But politics seem to be changing the regulatory process daily, which hardly seems fair to a responsible applicant like MBT, and even more troubling to a community that continues to support MBT and other responsible development in the region.”

John Stuhlmiller, CEO of the Washington Farm Bureau, said he worried the decision would discourage future business expansion in Washington: “We’re effectively closing the doors on any sort of investment opportunities with rulings like this. This arbitrary application of regulatory standards and inconsistent timelines does little to instill either confidence or interest in our state, especially when it comes to any sort of manufacturing or agricultural industries looking to locate here,” he said in a recent statement.

Chapman said the company would be appealing the examiner’s decision. “This decision is not consistent with either of (the Shoreline) policies, and seems to focus on the obvious aspect that other permits remain to be granted, which is an inevitable aspect of our current permitting system.”


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