PORTLAND — The state of Oregon has denied a permit to the company proposing a coal terminal at the Port of Morrow on the Columbia River, but Ambre Energy says it is considering “the full range of options” to move forward with its plans.
So are the fishermen who have lined up to fight the coal terminal. They’re convinced coal trains and more barges in the gorge would affect salmon fisheries, river safety and recreation in the area.
Bob Rees, a fishing charter guide and executive director of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, said there’s a bigger-picture concern as well.
“Coal worldwide is still having impacts on the Pacific Northwest ecosystem,” he said. “The export of cheap coal is just going to continue to encourage Third World countries to utilize it as an energy source, and that’s something that we can’t be a part of.”
Developers of the Morrow Pacific Project have said their goal is to build “the first environmentally responsible coal export facility” by covering it instead of having an open-air terminal. They have three weeks to make formal objections to the permit denial.
The Department of State Lands said placing pilings in this section of the Columbia for the barge loading dock won’t meet a “public need” and would obstruct what it calls the “small but important longstanding fishery in the project area.”
Chuck Sams, communications director for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, said the decision honors not only a 160-year-old treaty but the modern-day realities of tribal fishing.
“Since the building of the dams, many of the fish when they travel up and down the river don’t necessarily travel the main channel or the main stem. They travel along the sides,” he explained. “In this particular case, the proposed site is a very active fishing site for tribal fishermen.”
Sams said the Umatilla tribes also are a major employer in the region. While they recognize that a big construction project would bring a spike in jobs to northeast Oregon, they believe the boost would be temporary and that longer-term economic development solutions are needed.