PENDLETON — The developer of a proposed Columbia River coal export terminal is facing resistance from local tribes who argue the terminal’s dock would interfere with their fishing rights.
Australia-based Ambre Energy wants to ship 8.8 million tons of coal per year down the Columbia River and to Asia.
The Oregon Department of State Lands has until Aug. 18 to decide whether to issue a key permit allowing Ambre Energy to begin construction on the Morrow Pacific project, The East Oregonian has reported.
The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation’s objection is one of several opposing the project, which business leaders say will bring needed jobs when a nearby coal plant is shuttered in 2020.
Tribal spokesman Chuck Sams said the tribes’ position is the same as it was before: that their treaty rights are not for sale.
“The offer is something that is not in line with the federal government, which is unacceptable,” Sams said. “That’s why we’ve worked closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has a trust responsibility to uphold and protect our rights.”
Project advocates say they would contribute up to $800,000 per year to the tribes as part of the company’s proposal. They attempted to publish a letter and proposal in the tribes’ newspaper, the Confederated Umatilla Journal, but it was rejected.
Morrow Pacific CEO Clark Moseley then published the letter as a paid advertisement in several Eastern Oregon newspapers, suggesting a partnership with the tribes based on “mutual respect, shared benefits, collaboration and cooperation.”
Publishing the letter in any publication outside of tribal membership appears to be a divisive tactic to influence public sentiment, Sams said.
“We’re saying, ‘Tell us what we need to do to make this work for you,’” said Greg Smith, whose Heppner-based economic development firm was hired to assist with the Morrow Pacific project in 2011.
“But it’s pretty hard to clear up any misunderstandings when we can’t even communicate with each other.”
The Umatilla tribes are not the only tribes opposed to Morrow Pacific. In May, the Yakama and Lummi nations protested the project at Boardman Marina Park, stating coal exports not only threaten their fishing rights but also pose a serious risk to the health of the river.
Umatilla tribal Chairman Gary Burke said in a letter that the site is a productive fishing area, and tribal resources must be protected.
“Our creation story teaches us that we were created in this landscape, and it is our duty to take care of it,” Burke said.
“We have always lived here, and we always will. Ambre Energy is simply passing through in the name of the almighty dollar.”