EUGENE, Ore. (KMTR) – Lane County Commissioners have put their vote regarding a proposed bulk shipping port in Coos Bay that could bring coal exports through Lane County on hold.
Commissioners were set to vote on a proposed resolution supporting the bulk shipping port on Wednesday, October 17 at a board meeting. The resolution would have supported the port idea and a possible export of coal and wood pellets. However, commissioners chose to table the vote due to the status of the project.
“The resolution was based on a potential project,” said Commissioner Sid Leiken in an interview with NewsSource 16 on Wednesday. “Well, the potential project, based on what I was told by the Port of Coos Bay, maybe is not moving forward at this time.”
Six weeks ago, the Port of Coos Bay approached the Lane County Board of Commissioners to ask for support of the proposed bulk handling facility. On Tuesday, the Port informed commissioners that it’s now unsure of the future of the project.
Still, about thirty people showed up to Wednesday’s meeting, to protest an element of the resolution.
While the facility would be able to handle large loads of different products, the principal idea is to ship coal from the midwest to Coos Bay via the Coos Bay Rail Link. Once on the south coast, the coal would then be shipped to Asia.
Commissioner Sid Leiken says he understands the coal health concerns of the public but says the project doesn’t necessarily need to be used for just coal exports. Ultimately, Leiken says the benefit could be big for the Coos Bay Rail Link and Lane County's economy.
”I'm hopeful that folks understand how important it is to make sure that we have a short line like this and what it will mean for our local economy here in Lane County and what they means about potentially exporting our products from here to some of our trading partners,” says Sid Leiken, Lane County Commissioner.
About twenty people spoke out against coal exports on Wednesday. Many are concerned about coal dust blowing off of trains, affecting air quality, water quality and wildlife habitat.
"They already know they can't cover them, which is our death sentence for tourism and our public health,” said one male Eugene resident against coal exports.
One person spoke in favor of the project, saying railroads are vital to the economy.
"I think everybody in this room should move to Coos Bay and try the unemployment factor that people are dealing with,” said one female Springfield resident in support of railroad improvements.
About 64% of the Coos Bay Rail Link goes through Lane County. Trains can only go about 10 miles per an hour though on the tracks because of the age of the rail and the improvements it needs.
Commissioners aren’t sure when or if they’ll take up the resolution in support of the project again. They have heard that stakeholders should know by November 2012 whether or not the proposed bulk handling facility will move forward in Coos Bay.