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Columbia River pier

Millennium suing Ecology for bias

Millennium Bulk Terminals (MBT) has announced it is suing Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon for bias in delaying its proposed export terminal project in Longview. The company is also appealing its permit denial to the Cowlitz County Superior Court, alleging that the department had “intentionally (misapplied) the Clean Water Act and State Environmental Protection Act to deprive Millennium of its rights, privileges and immunities.”

MBT first filed for its Clean Water Act certification in February of 2012 but was asked to reapply twice before resubmitting once more in June 2017.

In September 2017, Ecology denied the water quality permit certification with prejudice based on its concerns related to the environment, air quality,  traffic and tribal resources, among other issues.

Wendy Hutchinson, Senior Vice President for Millennium, told Lens the reasons stated for denying the water permit have nothing to do with the water itself. MBT believes the Clean Water Act was misused as reasoning to deny the project, as the state is required to look at whether the proposed terminal project will meet the state’s water quality standards.

“That was the question Bellon was supposed to answer,” Hutchinson said. “…whether the project will have reasonable assurance to meet those standards. Instead, she is going to say that they are going to deny the water quality certification with prejudice because they think eight trains are too many and there are too many ships.”

In the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) final EIS released April 2017, Ecology and Cowlitz County identified unavoidable, significant adverse environmental impacts in the company’s proposal. The study identified increased rail traffic and cancer risks for a nearby neighborhood as possible risks originating from the facility’s operation.

Ecology cited several reasons for denying Millennium’s application for a water quality certificate including an inadequate mitigation plan for preserving wetlands, insufficient information showing how wastewater and stormwater discharges would be handled to meet state water quality standards and a failure to demonstrate sufficient water supplies for managing coal dust.

In October 2017, MBT appealed the denial to the Pollution Control Hearings Board which upheld the department’s opinion, giving MBT the opportunity to appeal it to Cowlitz County’s Superior Court this month.

“We had to get it out of the administrative agency decision making process,” Hutchinson said. “We think it is clear in the law that they didn’t comply with their duties under the Clean Water Act, and we wanted to get it into the courts system to look into that.”

MBT also filed a case against Director Bellon because the company believes she is biased against coal, and that view drove her decision making. Hutchinson added that the reasons for the permit denial also have nothing to do with coal or the commodity shipped through the proposed terminal.

“You could use the same logic on a grain terminal, a container terminal or any other vessel and rail-related project,” she said, adding that Ecology’s stance will likely send a “strong, anti-development” message.

Hutchinson said Ecology’s decisions throughout the permitting process have had a significant impact on the local community by delaying economic development in Longview. The construction of the project is estimated to bring $43 million in tax revenue to the state and local governments, as well as creating 1,000 construction jobs.

Hutchinson said the company remains optimistic because any use of the Clean Water Act should pertain only to water.

The state of Washington has never denied a water quality certification with prejudice in its history, and we have a project with a final EIS that they wrote that does conclude that we can meet all state and federal environmental standards…”

Mike Bridges, President of the Longview/Kelso Building and Construction Trades Council, said he agrees that the lawsuit was necessary, especially since the project is located at the intersection of rail, deep water and Interstate 5.

“The decision that Ecology is making is not just about Millennium – it affects every type of economic development or business who wants to locate here, so I’m glad they are stepping up,” Bridges told Lens.

Many IBEW Local 18 and building trades locals in Cowlitz County are eager to work, however several are forced to travel commutes of a few hours to find work and are unable to come home each night due to the distance.

“We don’t mind working on the road if we need to, but it seems like everywhere is booming but this area…this area still needs something, and we have several projects held up in lengthy permitting processes,” said Bridges.

He added that the labor community appreciates a thorough permitting process, but union members find fault with the rules being changed as permitting processes continue.

“That is the biggest frustration not just for the union and building trades but for the whole community…everyone wants an answer…why does it take seven years to get an answer?”

This sends the wrong message to other businesses looking to locate at the first deep water port in the Columbia River with access to rail and I-5, he said.

“It’s not a good thing when you are supposed to be one of the most trade-dependent states, and it’s alarming to me that we are picking winners and losers on what we are going to trade.”

Bridges remains optimistic, but that the labor community is anxious to see how the case is resolved.

“They are breaking new ground here, and it will be interesting to see how it will shake out,” he said.

Mike Richards grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. He graduated from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA with a degree in Multiplatform Journalism and a minor in Public Relations. He wrote and published articles at Pittsburgh’s NPR station covering a variety of topics.

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