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Longview Coal Terminal Developer Filing Appeals, Lawsuit To Keep Project Alive

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An aerial view of the proposed coal terminal in Longview, Washington. It is on a former aluminum smelter site.

The company that wants to build a coal export terminal in Longview, Washington, is keeping lawyers busy this week on multiple fronts. In recent months, the Millennium Bulk Terminals project has suffered repeated setbacks, mainly in the form of permit denials.

The company is fighting back in court. The latest filings include a public records lawsuit against the Washington State Department of Ecology. The lawsuit alleges the agency failed to turn over documents from technical experts that Ecology relied on to make critical findings about the proposed coal terminal. Millennium said it needs the documents so its own experts can try to duplicate or disprove points of analysis. ?

A spokesman for the state agency said it's delivering the requested files in installments because the developer requested so much material.

"We're expecting to work on responses for several more weeks," spokesman Dave Bennett said. Several of the installments exceeded 1,000 pages or more.

Separately, Millennium attorney Jon Sitkin said the company is appealing the mid-November denial by Cowlitz County of a shoreline development permit. That appeal was filed Monday with the state Shorelines Hearings Board.

"It's a strong company. The project is very much alive,” Sitkin said. “We’re committed to developing this project in Longview."

The Columbia River terminal Millennium proposes to build would receive coal by rail from the Mountain West for loading on ships to export to Asia.

Sitkin said the developer has spent more than $15 million so far on the years-long permitting process. An overarching issue for Millennium and its allies in the regional business community is their belief that the coal export terminal is being unfairly held to tougher permitting standards than other large projects.

In October, Millennium filed a different lawsuit against the Washington Department of Ecology alleging the decision to deny a water quality permit was based on "biased and prejudiced decision-making."

"The charge is wrong," said Maia Bellon, director of the Washington Department of Ecology, in a recent interview on cable channel TVW. "Their application failed to show that it could protect water quality so it was denied on that ground as well as several other grounds that the environmental review showed provided unavoidable impacts to the environment."

Millennium has to overcome additional roadblocks to move its project forward. Earlier this year, the Washington Department of Natural Resources denied a needed lease of submerged aquatic lands for the terminal's shipping docks. Millennium appealed the lease denial.

Last month, a Cowlitz County Superior Court judge questioned the grounds for the adverse lease decision and directed the parties to work out an agreement.

An array of environmental groups contend that it is time for Millennium to give up on "this unwanted and risky project," as Rebecca Ponzio of the Washington Environmental Council put it.

"Millennium faces insurmountable hurdles, and the company should end their coal export aspirations today,” Power Past Coal Coalition Co-Director Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky said in a statement cheering the shorelines permit denial last month.

The news release was titled "Strike Four."

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.