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Army to issue separate coal port reports

Any marriage of convenience between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state of Washington for environmental statements on new coal ports was dissolved last week for what appear to be irreconcilable differences.

They will issue separate statements, possibly with very different conclusions, about new ports near Longview and Bellingham. Until Friday, the state plan was to issue a single report, although it might have had two parts with different conclusions.

Signs of trouble were clear last Tuesday. . .



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. . .  The corps had invited reporters to call-in to its headquarters to chat with the Col Bruce Estok, Seattle District commander, about the environmental review process for the ports.

It’s a more interesting topic than it may sound. The Corps says federal law limits their studies to the land and water around the port. The state says Washington law requires their studies to include everything from mining the coal in Wyoming, shipping it across the state, loading it on ships bound for China, where it’s burned in power plants and the pollution is carried back on the wind.

It’s not 100 percent guarantee they’ll come up with different preferred options. But supporters of the new coal ports like the Corps’ approach while opponents like the state’s approach.

After getting more than a dozen reporters on the line – it was the morning after a three-day weekend, we all were hurting for news – staff announced Estok wouldn’t be talking. The Seattle office wasn’t able to say anything because they needed “some coordination above the regional level.” Folks higher up the chain of command hadn’t decided what they wanted to say. They’d have something “before the end of the week,” Muffy Walker, chief of the regional office, said.

That “something” turned out to be a posting in the Federal Register late Friday afternoon that the Corps would be filing separate environmental statements on the two ports. Estok wasn’t available to answer questions and the Corps left it to the state Department of Ecology to explain things to the news media.

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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