By Marissa Luck, Reporter at The Daily News
Nearly 200,000 comments flooded into the Department of Ecology as the state considers whether to approve of water quality permit for Millennium Bulk Terminals’ proposed coal dock in Longview.
That’s the highest number of comments Ecology has ever received for a 401 water quality permit application, said Ecology spokesman Dave Bennett.
“The number of comments wasn’t a big surprise because there’s been a lot of public interest in Millennium’s proposal,” Bennett said Friday.
At Ecology’s request, Millennium withdrew and resubmitted its application for a 401 water quality permit at the end of June to reflect changes in its project. Ecology also wanted to review a new wetlands plan for the coal dock and collect additional information from Millennium. A 30-day public comment period on the updated proposal ended last week. Ecology will decide whether to issue the water quality certification by the end of September.
Bennett said Ecology is still evaluating the comments. It’s not clear how many of those comments were from a pre-written form letter, nor is it clear how many were for or against the project.
Yet environmental groups with the Power Past Coal coalition said the majority of those comments are from opponents.
“Opposition to coal export continues to build,” stated Gary Wallace, president of Landowners and Citizens for a Safe Community, in a press release. “Over 162,000 people are asking Ecology to stop this dead-end project and help us usher in cleaner, safer industries that benefit our environment and economy. I hope the agency listens.”
Wendy Hutchinson, vice president of public affairs for Millennium, said the company respects “the process and the right of individuals to express themselves. The Department of Ecology’s thorough Final Environmental Impact Statement concluded that the project will have no significant impacts on water quality.”
Overall, Millennium needs 23 permits from various federal, state and local agencies. Last month Cowlitz County Building and Planning officials issued a Critical Areas Permit, the first of eight permits the company needs from the county.
The coal terminal would create more than 1,000 construction jobs, 130 permanent jobs and $5.4 million in annual state and local taxes, according to the EIS.
Opponents claim the project would exacerbate climate change by increasing global greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 2 million metric tons annually, according to an EIS. They also point out that rail cars servicing the dock could increase the cancer risk rate by 10 percent over background county levels for residents in Highlands neighborhood of Longview, according to the EIS. (That number is contested by BNSF Railway and Millennium.)
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