Politics Blog

Funding request a sign of life for Ore. coal port

When the Oregon Department of State Lands in August rejected a permit to build a dock for a coal terminal at Port of Morrow in Boardman, environmentalists were tolling the death knell for the facility, one of three proposed in Oregon and Washington that would help deliver Montana and Wyoming coal to Asian ports.

But a recent newspaper report sounded something like a heartbeat for the project. The connection at first glance isn’t readily apparent: Another Oregon agency, the Department of Transportation, will consider a grant request for a different dock at another point along the Columbia River. This dock, near Clatskanie, Ore. — a 70-year-old pier that is due for a rebuild — would receive coal by barge from the Boardman terminal for loading onto cargo ships.

The Port of St. Helens dock near Clatskanie, between Portland and Astoria on the Columbia River, was all set to be awarded its $2 million grant request on Aug. 20, but the award was pulled, according to the story in the Blue Mountain Eagle, a small but (if one can judge from one article) apparently relevant weekly paper out of John Day, Ore.

Although the article doesn’t make the connection, State Lands had just rejected the Boardman dock permit two days prior, on Aug. 18.

While Ambre Energy is in an appeal of the state’s decision to deny the permit, the dock near the mouth of the Columbia River will get another turn at bat. The Department of Transportation will undertake a “second-chance review,” with $4 million available to the dozens of projects rejected in the first round. Meetings to review the second-chance applicants are taking place next month, with a public hearing scheduled for Jan. 15. A final decision is expected in February.

An interesting side note in the story: Ambre Energy, the applicant for the Boardman coal terminal, was originally named as a contributor to the Clatskanie dock; the Port of St. Helens, if it were awarded the $2 million, would get a matching $3 million from Ambre. Now, Port of St. Helens is saying it will cover the other $3 million if Ambre doesn’t — an acknowledgment, perhaps, of the Australian energy firm’s recent financial troubles and sale of its North American coal assets.