PORTLAND, Ore. — Thousands of comments are expected to be received as Oregon regulators consider permits for a proposed terminal along the Columbia River to transfer coal from trains to barges for eventual shipment to Asia.
The state Department of Environmental Quality plans hearings Tuesday on the proposed coal transfer terminal at the Port of Morrow near Boardman, where trains from Montana and Wyoming would transfer shipments to barges that would be sent downriver and loaded onto vessels bound for Asia.
The agency plans hearings at Blue Mountain Community College in Hermiston and the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
State Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Greg Svelund said he expects at least 600 comments during the hearings and written comments numbering in the thousands.
"As much work as it is, it's really good to see this many people coming out," he said. "It's something that's not been done before in Oregon on this scale."
Ambre Energy, an Australian coal and oil shale company, hopes to ship 8.8 million metric tons of coal a year.
The state agency has issued three draft permits. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said last month it will review the Boardman project and two other proposed Northwest coal export proposals in separate processes, instead of jointly, as Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber had asked.
The other projects are in Washington state, at Longview and near Bellingham.
Proponents such as Gary Neal, general manager of the Port of Morrow, say that project would create 25 to 30 high-paying full-time jobs at the port.
Environmentalists and others said they're concerned about effects on public health, rural economies and the environment.
"As Americans, we don't want to see absurdly cheap coal giving our competitors an unfair advantage," said Tova Woyciechowicz, an organizer with the nonprofit Oregon Rural Action based in La Grande. "As community members, we don't want to breathe the 3 percent coal dust lost and cause problems to our lungs and more."