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Wash. county appeals its own examiner's decision to deny coal terminal permits

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Wash. county appeals its own examiner's decision to deny coal terminal permits

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This May 12, 2005, file photo shows the port of Longview on the Columbia River in Washington. Cowlitz County has appealed a hearing examiner's decision to deny critical shoreline permits needed for the planned Millennium Bulk coal terminal project.

Source: Associated Press

Washington's Cowlitz County has filed an appeal to the decision by its own hearing examiner to deny shoreline permits needed for a planned coal export terminal.

The examiner denied two shorelines permits needed by Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview in November, stating that the coal terminal failed to reasonably mitigate the project's unavoidable and significant impacts identified in a final state environmental impact statement released in April.

Earlier this month, Millennium Bulk itself appealed the decision at the same time as it sued the Washington Department of Ecology for failing to produce documents about how it came to the findings and conclusions in the impact statement. Millennium Bulk's developers said the hearing examiner misread and misapplied the State Environmental Policy Act and the Shoreline Management Act.

The county appeal, filed before the Washington state Shorelines Hearing Board, said the hearing examiner's decision "constitutes an unlawful and unjust application of the Cowlitz County Shoreline Master Program and the Shoreline Management Act" because "it contains a clearly erroneous application of the State Environmental Policy Act." It also alleges that the examiner failed to consider and evaluate the facts and evidence presented at the hearing and that the decision is "arbitrary and capricious."

Cowlitz County said it was "aggrieved" by the hearing examiner's decision, as it conflicts with its own interpretations and applications of the related state acts.

The county asked the board to find the decision unlawful and unjust, setting the decision aside and approving the permits.

Jan Hasselman, a staff attorney for Earthjustice who works on the cases with the environmental groups challenging Millennium Bulk, said that under the county's code, the hearing examiner makes the decision on shoreline permits.

"The hearing examiner took several days to hear the evidence, and reached the same conclusion as every other decision maker to date — the project is too risky and harmful, and it's not needed. Cowlitz County should be supporting their own hearing examiner's decision, not attacking it," he said.