The company planning one of two Oregon terminals that could export Wyoming and Montana coal to Asia grudgingly agreed this week to a state suggestion that it seek a delay in a permit deadline for its project.
But company representatives say the overall project timeline won’t be affected.
Ambre Energy, the company behind the Morrow Pacific coal exports project, on Wednesday asked the Oregon Department of State Lands to delay a dock-permitting decision for the project until
Sept. 1. The previous deadline was for the beginning of April.
The company asked for the deadline change in the wake of February requests from the state for more information about the cultural and environmental impacts of the project. But because the project is also contingent on a lengthier U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-run environmental assessment study, the company expects the delay to have little effect on its plan to begin operations in 2014.
“Ambre is committed to the project,” Liz Fuller, a spokeswoman for Morrow Pacific, said. “Nothing about the timeline has changed at this point.”
At least one leading coal trade group also expects the delay to have little effect on Wyoming coal and the greater movement to ship coal out of the northwest.
“Lots of permits get delayed,” said Marion Loomis, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association. “Hopefully they can provide the information that’s needed and ultimately the permit would be issued.”
The State Lands Department first asked for additional information in early February, in response to a series of critical public
comments about the project. The state then asked for a detailed list of analyses from Ambre, including information about how operations would affect a nearby tribal fishing area and species indigenous to the area.
The company originally rejected the request, saying it had submitted enough information to justify granting a permit. But the state quickly fired back, saying it wouldn’t approve an application without “sufficient information.”
In a March 13 letter addressed to the department, Ambre’s John Thomas wrote back that he still feels his company has supplied the state with adequate information and should receive a removal-fill permit to construct a dock for the facility, but will comply with state demands because the department “has made its intent to deny” the application known if such information isn’t provided.
Fuller said the company’s discussions with the department are “fairly standard.” Ambre is in discussions with the department about which analyses it will provide, but Fuller said the company will “most likely not” produce the full list the state requested.
The company’s lack of
willingness to provide some information has stiffened an already-strong opposition to the project.
“It’s great news to hear that it’s delayed,” Krista Collard, spokeswoman for the Sierra Club and the Power Past Coal Coalition, said. “It’s not really surprising. Ambre Energy basically hasn’t wanted to play by the rules.”
Ambre hopes to eventually ship about 8 million tons of coal per year through the facility, a two-port system that would include barge loading at Port of Morrow, Ore., and ocean vessel loading at a facility at Port of St. Helen’s, Ore. The project would likely be the first of five planned coal terminals to begin operations.
Morrow Pacific is the second terminal in Oregon to make news this month. In early March, two of three investors backed out of the Coos Bay, Ore.-based Project Mainstay project, which was still under feasibility study. The remaining investor, Metro Ports, has another two weeks to find new partners under its exclusive negotiation contract with the port.
Collard said she thinks the news is indicative of coal export terminals losing favor.
“As people and companies get more information, they’re backing away from them,” she said.
“The project is still looking really viable,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to export coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, which will yield economic benefits to the state and region.”