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Coal export facility gets British Columbia port's approval

The port authority in Vancouver, British Columbia, has approved a coal export facility using coal extracted from the United States.

Peter Xotta, vice president of planning and operations for the Port Metro Vancouver, said at a Thursday news conference that the port approved a $15 million coal-loading facility at the Fraser Surrey Docks, according to a report in the Vancouver Sun newspaper. Xotta estimated the facility would be fed via a daily train with up to 125 cars carrying thermal coal from the U.S.

The decision came three days after the Oregon Department of State Lands rejected a permit needed by Ambre Energy to install a dock in the Columbia River near Boardman. Ambre hoped to bring Powder River coal on train cars from Wyoming and Montana and then transfer it onto barges near Boardman, to ship it down the Columbia River.

The Fraser Surrey Docks project still requires an air emissions permit from Metro Vancouver, according to the Dogwood Initiative, an advocacy group that opposes the coal export facility. Metro Vancouver is expected to conduct a public meeting and a 30-day public comment period for the air permit application and request a full health impact assessment.

“Thankfully, the next steps rest with Metro Vancouver – a regional government that’s responsive and accountable to residents,” said Laura Benson, director of the Dogwood Initiative’s Beyond Coal campaign. “We’re confident local officials will stand up for the health of their neighbors, communities and the global climate – even if the port and the province won't,” Benson said.

The Fraser Surrey Docks proposal would ship 8 million tons a year of Powder River coal to Asian power plants, doubling the amount of U.S. coal exported from British Columbia ports, according to Benson.

Liz Fuller, a spokeswoman for Ambre Energy, said it’s ironic that the new Vancouver export project might send coal via rail through the Columbia River Gorge, after the state of Oregon rejected Ambre’s more environmentally friendly proposal to barge coal down the Columbia River instead. “The project was designed to mitigate environmental impacts,” she said, and avoid shipping coal via congested rail lines in the Portland area.

“We have been saying for awhile that if it doesn’t happen in the Northwest, it’s going to happen in B.C.,” Fuller said.

Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, said it hasn’t been announced if the Vancouver project would send coal through the Columbia River Gorge, but his group opposes any and all coal export projects in the West Coast.

“We think that coal exported anywhere off the West Coast is harmful to our communities and harmful to our climate,” VandenHeuvel said.

Benson said the current Powder River coal being exported via the Westshore Terminal in British Columbia comes on trains through the Columbia River Gorge, so it's assumed that any new coal shipments would go the same route. Ambre still is evaluating options for how it might proceed with its Oregon coal export project in light of Monday’s permit rejection, Fuller said. “The project definitely is not dead,” she said.

The company previously won three permits from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for air, wastewater and stormwater, Fuller noted, and the DEQ recently issued a draft permit for a 401 water quality certification, though a final permit decision on that is pending.

The DSL permit and a separate permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also would be needed for that project to go ahead.

Ambre is evaluating whether to appeal the DSL decision, which would go before an administrative law judge.

Ambre also could consider redesigning its project, Fuller said, though it’s too soon to speculate on that. “All the options are on the table,” she said.

VandenHeuvel is skeptical that Ambre could merely shift from a barge-based plan to using rail cars through the gorge or elsewhere. “It’s not going to be easy to just pick another location,” he said. There are rail line constraints with that option, including the rail line running through the center of Rainier, Ore.

“If that was a viable option for them, I suspect they would have started there,” he said.

Steve Law can reached at 503-546-5139 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Twitter: @SteveLawTrib

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