The Daily News Online, Serving The Lower Columbia, September 14, 2013
By Erik Olson
Longview is about to take center stage in Lower Columbia area’s largest-ever battle between environmental protection and job growth, and both sides say the community’s future health and growth are at risk.
Thousands are expected to show up Tuesday at the Cowlitz Expo Center for the first public hearings on Millennium Bulk Terminals’ proposed coal dock west of town. In one sense, the atmosphere will be festive, with barbecues, crazy costumes and even team uniforms (likely red T-shirts for opponents, as-yet unannounced colors for supporters.)
Yet the pageantry is a front for a bitter conflict. For an industrial area hungry for family-wage employment, the prospect of 135 permanent jobs at the terminal, 2,000 more during construction and millions of dollars in tax revenue is very attractive. And if Longview doesn’t want to export coal, other places will be happy to supply expanding Chinese and Indian markets, proponents say.
“Growing our own local economy is what’s at stake, as opposed to the alternative, which is losing this opportunity to a different state or country,” said Kyle Mackey, president of the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Central Labor Council, a Millennium supporter.
Environmentalists, though, want to kill the Asian coal trade before it can gain traction in the United States. They raise a host of objections, but their central beef is that burning coal contributes to global warning.
“What’s at stake here is a decision on whether to move forward with a healthy and vibrant community that attracts new business, or turn backward to sending dirty rocks to Asia and suffering through air and water pollution, and a risky reputation as a coal town,” Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Hood River-based Columbia RiverKeeper, said in a written statement.