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Permit for planned La. coal terminal expires after drawn-out dispute

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for a planned Louisiana coal export terminal has expired after years of legal and community disputes aimed at halting the project.

RAM Terminals LLC was issued a permit in November 2014 to clear, grade, excavate and deposit fill for a facility on the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish, La., that was to include coal storage, settling ponds, a terminal, barge fleeting and rail access. The deadline to complete the work was Nov. 30 of this year.

Armstrong Energy Inc., which is undergoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy organization, announced in October 2011 it had taken an equity position in the terminal at a time when international demand for coal was high and various export projects were in the works. Environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources in 2013 for awarding a permit to the project, and a judge revoked one of the permits in 2014. The project was revived in April 2016 when the state Department of Natural Resources reissued the permit but was quickly postponed again.

Sierra Club campaign organizer Grace Morris told S&P Global Market Intelligence she is relieved by the latest development, as the project has come back from the dead several times.

"They could have extended it just by applying for an extension," she said.

According to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Ram Terminals became an indirect subsidiary of Thoroughbred Resources, L.P. in February 2014. Both Thoroughbred and Armstrong are majority owned, directly or indirectly, by Yorktown Partners LLC. The filing said Yorktown's ownership in RAM was converted into an equity interest in Thoroughbred at the time.

Amstrong did not respond to questions about the current ownership of the project, but Morris said the Army Corps told her the property where the terminal would have been developed is for sale.

The Army Corps did not respond to a request for comment.

According to a Sierra Club press release, local residents opposed the project on the grounds that it would harm post-Hurricane Katrina coastal restoration efforts.

"Our economy and livelihoods depend on coastal restoration," Jefferson Parish council member Ricky Templet said in the release. "We need to stand behind our commitment to coastal restoration and reject projects that undermine the critical work being done to restore our coast and protect our communities."

Several planned coal terminals have been rejected over the past few years — particularly along the Pacific Coast, where coal producers have been struggling to reach the Asian market due to limited port capacity.

Oakland's city council voted unanimously in June 2016 to ban coal handing and storage at the proposed Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal in California, while the Army Corps stopped the permitting process in May 2016 for the planned Gateway Pacific terminal in Washington state. The backers of the Morrow Pacific terminal in Oregon withdrew their application after years of legal and regulatory roadblocks.

Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview is one of the only projects still moving to a degree, though the Washington state terminal still faces numerous obstacles.

Recent tightness for moving Northern Appalachia coal out of Baltimore has forced some producers to move their commodity down to the Gulf Coast.