Millennium Bulk Terminals receives first permit for export terminal. Progress.

We’ve written before about the arduous journey the Millennium Bulk Terminals export project had been required to undergo by state regulators. Our most recent posts was in May, when we noted editorial, civic and labor support for the project and also cited opposition to the project as an example of the state’s urban-rural economic divide

So it was refreshing to see The Lens report that the project has received its first permit

After nearly five years and five months in the permitting process, Millennium Bulk Terminals (MBT) has finally received its first permit for the company’s proposed coal export facility in Longview. Stakeholders from the business and agriculture communities are optimistic the permit will be one of many awarded as the project progresses through the process and approaches final approval.

On Wednesday, July 19, Cowlitz County approved the terminal’s Critical Areas Permit (CAP), which indicates the county considers MBT’s plans sufficient for protecting the nearby wetlands and fish habitat areas.

Clearly, there’s still a long road ahead, but this permit may represent a turnaround.

The state’s agricultural sector has expressed strong support for the project and considers the permit a first step in the right direction for the state.

“What we need is a world class farm-to-market network,” said Washington Farm Bureau (WFB) president John Stuhlmiller. “That includes roads, railroads, barge traffic and it includes the port facilities to move it largely for us to the Pacific Rim.”

Other business groups agree with the WFB.

Stuhlmiller said MBT’s most difficult challenge has already passed, which was receiving the state’s final EIS back in April.

“There’s good reason to believe they will get to a point where they can actually start turning ground on the project, but it’s taken a lot of fortitude to stay in it… it’s been a monumental task to get through those permit processes,” he added.

Mary Catherine McAleer shared a similar optimism. She is government affairs director for environmental policy at the Association of Washington Business (AWB).

“The review process has been going on 5 years and counting. We think it’s really nice to see the project moving forward finally, and we hope the issuance of this permit signifies future progress.”

AWB hosted a rural jobs policy summit in March, and one of the largest concerns brought up for the year was permitting, according to McAleer.

The Lens story reports on the relatively high Cowlitz County unemployment rate, 5.9 percent in May compared to King County’s 3.1 percent. June county unemployment rates are here and continue to show large differences between metro Puget Sound and most rural parts of the state.

Union leaders also welcome the permit.

“It’s exciting after so many hearings and five and a half years of going through this process,” said Mike Bridges, business representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 48. “Getting this permit is the start of looking at it as a new chapter in the life of… the project and the first permit of many more to come.”

The Lens also posts a video with commentary by Millennium Bulk Terminals President and CEO Bill Chapman.