Cowlitz County, the Washington Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have signed a formal agreement to jointly oversee the preparation of an environmental impact statement for a proposal from Millennium Bulk Terminals to develop a coal export terminal at the site of the previous Reynolds aluminum smelter near Longview, Wa., on the lower Columbia River.
The three agencies will coordinate their work under Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act and the federal National Environmental Policy Act. The agreement, called a memorandum of understanding, enables the Corps, county, and state agency to coordinate the environmental review and avoid duplicate efforts where SEPA and NEPA overlap.
Millennium Bulk Terminals – Longview, LLC, whose members are Ambre Energy North America and Arch Coal, proposes to build and operate a coal export facility capable of receiving coal by rail, stockpiling the coal, and loading it onto ships for export.
The proposal calls for two separate construction stages. Both will be addressed in the EIS. In Stage 1, MBTL proposes to handle up to 25 million metric tons of coal per year, while Stage 2 would expand handling up to a total of 44 million metric tons per year.
MBTL proposes bringing coal in by rail to the site, storing coal at the facility, and exporting coal on ships.
Both NEPA and SEPA require the disclosure and evaluation of environmental effects of a proposed action. An EIS is prepared when a proposed action is likely to have significant environmental impacts.
The new agreement triggers a process similar to one started nearly a year ago in Washington’s Puget Sound. Pacific International Terminals, a subsidiary of SSA Marine, has proposed building a deep-water marine terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County. The proposed “Gateway Pacific Terminal” would handle import and export of up to 54 million dry metric tons per year of bulk commodities, mostly exporting coal.
The scoping - deciding what factors to analyze and what geographic area to consider - for the Cherry Point proposal was launched Sept. 24. Comments will be accepted through Jan. 21. The co-lead agencies ask other agencies, tribes and the public to comment on what a future NEPA-SEPA environmental impact statement should analyze. Examples of possible factors to consider include storm water, wetlands, air emissions, noise, and traffic. After considering comments, the lead agencies will decide what should be included in the environmental impact statement.
For details on the Cherry Point process, see www.eisgatewaypacificwa.gov.
The EIS process includes three major milestones: scoping, a draft EIS and a final EIS. The first opportunity for public input will be during the scoping process. The actual start of that process for the Longview process has yet to be determined.
During this process the three agencies will seek public comment on the appropriate scope of the environmental analysis for the project. The lead agencies will seek comments that will guide their decision on how the EIS will address:
-- A reasonable range of alternatives for the proposals.
-- Potentially affected resources and the extent to which the EIS should analyze those resources.
-- Identifying significant unavoidable adverse impacts.
-- Measures to avoid, minimize and mitigate effects caused by the proposals.
Work on a draft EIS will begin after scoping is complete. Once a draft EIS is developed, there will be a formal public review period. Learn more about the SEPA process and the opportunities for public comment by reading the Citizens Guide to SEPA Review and Commenting (http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/sea/sepa/citizensguide/citizensguide.htm).
Under this week’s agreement, management and technical direction of the environmental review will be shared by the agencies. A third-party consultant will be hired to prepare the EIS.
Ecology agreed to join Cowlitz County as co-lead under SEPA earlier this year.
The agencies’ environmental review is separate from a cleanup that is being conducted under the state’s Model Toxics Control Act at the site. Ecology is working with site owner, Northwest Alloys-Alcoa and site operator Millennium Bulk Terminals, to investigate and clean up the site where the Reynolds Metals Company owned and operated an aluminum smelter from 1941 to 2000. The smelter was permanently shut down in 2001. More information on the cleanup effort is available on Ecology’s Reynolds Metal cleanup website (https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/gsp/Sitepage.aspx?csid=2497).
The coal export terminal also would be separate from current export operations on the site. Millennium Bulk Terminals currently moves alumina by ship and rail and imports a small amount of coal by rail for use by the neighboring Weyerhaeuser complex. These operations have existing permits specific to the operations and would not be altered by the adjacent coal export terminal proposal. For more information on current operations, see Ecology’s current operations website (http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/swfa/industrial/misc_terminal.html).