While Ambre Energy awaits state and federal permits to build a controversial coal export terminal at the Port of Morrow, the company signed a letter of intent with Tidewater Barge Lines for transportation service along the Columbia River.

Tidewater, based in Vancouver, Wash., will operate tugboats and barges needed to move the coal 218 miles down river — if the project receives permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Oregon Department of State Lands and Department of Environmental Quality.

The Morrow Pacific project would ship 8.8 million tons of coal per year on covered barges from Boardman to Port Westward, an industrial park located between St. Helens and Astoria. From there, it would load onto ocean-going vessels for export to Asian markets including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Morrow Pacific already has agreements in place with Gunderson Marine and Vigor Industrial, of Portland, to build 20 enclosed barges at a combined price of $75 million. Ambre is optimistic the project will be operational by early 2015.

“We’re very convinced of the project, and excited to be partnering with Tidewater,” said spokeswoman Liz Fuller. “They are a well-established company that’s an expert in river transportation. They obviously know how to do the job.”

Tidewater also expects to add approximately 50 employees for vessel operation, maintenance and administration, according to an announcement Thursday. The jobs are full-time and will offer full benefits, said spokeswoman Carol Bua.

President and CEO?Bob Curcio said the focus is on safety and protecting the environment, as well as serving local communities.

“For more than 80 years, Tidewater has safely, cleanly and efficiently moved commodities such as grain, petroleum and forest products on the Columbia River,”?Curcio said in a statement. “The Morrow Pacific project provides exciting opportunities for Tidewater and strengthens our regional export economy.”

At $242 million, the Morrow Pacific project is expected to create 25-30 permanent jobs, 2,000 construction jobs and have an overall economic impact of more than $300 million per year. It takes coal from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana, which project leaders say is among the cleanest in the world with a low sulfur and ash content.

But opponents of Northwest coal exports worry about public health and environmental impacts. At least 150 people pre-registered to speak at a public hearing July 9 in Hermiston discussing three draft permits issued by DEQ.

There is no timetable for issuing final permits. A?full environmental assessment of the facility is also in process by the Army Corps of Engineers Portland District.


Contact George Plaven at gplaven@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4547.

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