Columbia River Towns May Team Up To Export Coal - Part 2

Jul 10, 2012

We brought you the story of the Northwest’s only coal export proposal that would rely on two different ports on the Columbia River, with a profile of the Eastern Oregon town of Boardman, where coal would be be delivered by train and loaded onto Columbia River barges. Now, EarthFix reporter Cassandra Profita takes a look at a port near Clatskanie Oregon, where that coal would be transferred to ocean-going ships for delivery to Asia.

Mike Seely is a mint farmer near Clatskanie. His mint plants are about 3 feet high now. And as he walks through the dense crops, he points toward the dock where the Morrow Pacific project would transfer up to 8 million tons of coal from barges to ships.

Seely: “You can see a little building right over there, a little bit. That’s our closest field. And the dock is to the right about a quarter mile”

Seely’s family farm harvests mint leaves for tea and oils that are used in hand-made peppermint chocolates. A dusting of coal would ruin everything.

Seely: “The mint would pick that up, that note. And so you would have that coal dust, that coal note, to your oils, to your tea. The plant has enough hairs on the leaf that you could never get that coal dust off of that leaf plant.”

Seely says he wants a guarantee that the Morrow Pacific project won’t dust his crops with coal. So far he hasn’t gotten one.

Morrow President and CEO Clark Moseley says Seely has nothing to worry about. His company has developed a unique way of controlling coal dust during the transfer by combining existing technologies in a totally new way. The process would take place entirely on the Columbia River, alongside a dock owned by the Port of St. Helens.

First, an export ship pulls up to the dock. Then another floating vessel called a transloader pulls up next to it. The transloader is equipped with two critical elements. The first is an enclosed auger, which lifts the coal off the barge in a vertical conveyer that looks like a giant screw.

The second is a series of enclosed conveyer belts that deliver the coal directly into the hold of the export ship. Moseley said his company would be the first to use this transferring method.

Mosely: “It has been designed to be no spillage, no dust, totally enclosed. So there will be very minimal impact of coal dust or spillage.”

The Morrow Pacific project has supporters in Columbia County. Chief among them is the Port of St. Helens director, Patrick Trapp. He’s excited about the prospect of the company using the port’s vacant dock to generate tax revenue and local jobs.

Trapp: “There would be dock workers working the dock itself. There would be individuals on tugs, whether they be masters and or mates and or deckhands that are managing an moving the cargo. There would be individuals on the transloader that would lift the coal out of the barge and move it into the ship.”

Trapp also spends a lot of time explaining the difference between the Morrow Pacific project and another coal export terminal proposed on Port of St. Helens property by Kinder Morgan. One key difference is, Morrow Pacific wouldn’t bring coal trains through towns in the gorge and along the lower Columbia. Instead, it would send a tow of four barges floating down the river from Boardman five days a week.

The Kinder Morgan project would export more than three times as much coal, shipping it on trains and storing it on land – some of which is currently covered by the Seely farm’s mint.

Seely: “The Kinder Morgan project with railing the coal in, they wanted to park it right here. If they moved in with that, then we were finished. We knew that. With the barge one, we don’t know.”

Morrow Pacific needs two permits to get started. One from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and one from the Oregon Department of State Lands. Preliminary decisions on the project are expected later this summer.

Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio