500-plus get their say on Morrow coal exports

The Port of Morrow facility would transfer coal from trains to barges that dispatch the goods overseas.

The Port of Morrow facility would transfer coal from trains to barges that dispatch the goods overseas.

Advocates who argue on both sides of the coal export issue say they achieved their messaging goals during a Tuesday public hearing on the Port of Morrow proposal.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality hearing, which collected comments on the proposed Port of Morrow coal export facility, garnered opinions from hundreds of participants in Portland and Pendleton.

More than 500 people were signed up to speak at the all-day hearing.

Supporters of the project, including the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, praised the DEQ for letting them make their points in what spokeswoman Lauri Hennessey said was a civil fashion.

In other hearings on proposed facilities in Washington, "It became an intense emotional setting" that led to more polarizing discussions, Hennessey said.

"This hearing was more about learning about the issues than putting on a side show," she said.

Hennessey's group believes the Port of Morrow project, proposed by the Australian company Ambre Energy, will create jobs for workers who transfer coal shipped from Montana and Idaho to Columbia River barges. The idea is to export the coal overseas.

Groups such as Power Past Coal dispatched hundreds of opponents to the hearings. Opponents want state agencies to reject all permits related to coal exports in Oregon.

“These pollutants would cause lung problems and aggravate asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper. "This kind of pollution can also exacerbate heart disease and even cause premature death. The law and public health concerns require DEQ to deny Ambre Energy’s permit request.”

The Port of Morrow is one of three remaining coal export facilities on the table from an original group of six. The other two are near Longview and Bellingham in Washington.

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