Judge weighs whether port records should be released

The Associated Press /

PORTLAND — A federal judge said Tuesday he would weigh whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must release environmental review documents involving a proposed coal port criticized by environmentalists.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Papak said that he must decide whether the documents show the agency’s internal deliberations about the Morrow Pacific coal export terminal in Boardman.

Deliberative documents can be exempt from disclosure under federal rules, depending on how they’re interpreted by the releasing agency or a judge.

The conservation group Columbia Riverkeeper demanded the documents in 2012, and the corps refused.

The corps had to decide in 2012 whether to undertake an environmental impact statement, as it had with two proposed coal terminals in Washington state, or conduct a less-intensive environmental assessment, which would not have included public input.

The corps opted for the assessment, and Columbia Riverkeeper sued to review the internal documents that led to the decision.

The proposed terminal would bring coal in open train cars from the Powder River Basin in the Northern Rockies through Idaho and the Columbia Gorge. From there, the coal would be taken in barges on the Columbia River to a Pacific Ocean port for export to Asian markets.

The project has drawn criticism from environmental advocates, but proponents in Eastern Oregon argue the terminal would add jobs to an area that needs them.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden have said the corps should opt for a more thorough environmental impact statement.