After five years of planning and legal battles, a proposed coal dock at the Port of Morrow in Boardman has been dumped.
The Coyote Island Terminal, part of the controversial Morrow Pacific Project, would have shipped 8 million tons of coal per year down the Columbia River for export to Asia. It was initially pitched by Ambre Energy North America — now Lighthouse Resources — in 2011, promising to add 2,000 new jobs for the area.
However, the Oregon Department of State Lands in 2014 denied a key permit needed to build in the river, citing interference with a long-standing tribal fishery. An appeal was scheduled for later this month before an administrative law judge, but sides instead came to an agreement Thursday. Local tribes, environmental organizations and the states of Wyoming and Montana, which would have supplied coal to the dock, have also signed on to the agreement.
As part of the deal, the port will withdraw its application for the dock, and the Department of State Lands will withdraw the findings from its permit denial. Essentially, it wipes the slate clean for the port to pursue other project at the site, without setting a legal precedent for future development.
“This dock site and one adjacent are the only two remaining dock sites for major industrial development in the John Day Pool,” said Gary Neal, general manager at the Port of Morrow. “Without this potential dock site, our ability to create jobs, grow economic development and attract new businesses is severely curtailed.”
The dock was slated to be built along a stretch of river where Neal said the port bought land from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1967, following construction of the John Day Dam. The now-flooded land was supposed to be used for “port or industrial facilities,” under the terms of the purchase.
The port has already invested more than $50 million at the site, including a rail loop designed so that trains could transfer their shipments. Neal said he believes the terminal was rejected due to the political pressure surrounding coal exports.
“We hope to continue into the future to develop our waterfront as it was intended to be used,” he said.
Columbia River tribes objected to the terminal, arguing it would interfere with their fishing rights guaranteed by the Treaty of 1855. Chuck Sams, spokesman for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, said they are not opposed to economic development as long as it doesn’t violate treaty rights.
“It just depends on the type of commodity they’re transporting, and the infrastructure that needs to be put in place,” Sams said.
The CTUIR does not approve of the Columbia River as a corridor for dangerous fossil fuels, Sams said. He added the tribes look forward to working together with the port in the future.
Lighthouse Resources announced in October it would no longer pursue the Morrow Pacific Project. The company is currently exporting coal through Westshore Terminals in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Bill Ryan, deputy director of operations for the Department of State Lands, said the agency is pleased to have the legal issues resolved. Though an unusual circumstance, he said the agreement reached with the port, tribes and others is appropriate for the situation.