Developers of the Morrow Pacific coal export project on the Columbia River already have land leases with the Port of St. Helens and the Port of Morrow.
But according to the Oregon Department of State Lands, they're going to need a couple more.
In Oregon, the state owns all the land submerged in water -– including riverbeds.
In a letter sent Friday, DSL operations manager Lori Warner-Dickason told project developers that a portion of their project will be taking place over state-owned submerged lands. That means they will need to lease additional state land before the project can operate.
Project opponent Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, said the new lease requirements offer the state a new way to stop the project.
"Oregon has tremendous discretion as the landlord to approve and deny leases," he said. "Like any landlord, Oregon can say no to a coal company as a tenant, and we think they should."
The Morrow Pacific project would export nearly 9 million tons of coal from Wyoming and Montana to Asia. It would transfer coal from railroad cars to barges and ships on the Columbia before sending it overseas.
The first transfer site is at the Port of Morrow, where coal would be loaded onto barges. The second stop is at the Port of St. Helens, where the coal would be transferred from barges to a larger ship at a dock near Clatskanie.
Warner-Dickason wrote that both transfers sites will be taking place in areas that require state land leases. At the Port of St. Helens, the company will need a lease for marine industrial use in a "yet to be determined area."
"The department requests a meeting with you to discuss the details of the operation at both locations so that we can clearly understand what is being proposed," Warner-Dickason wrote.
Liz Fuller, spokeswoman for Morrow Pacific, said the company is reviewing the letter and "will be consulting with the Port of Morrow and Port of St. Helens."
The Morrow Pacific project is the smallest of three proposed coal export facilities that mining and shipping interests want to build in the Pacific Northwest. The Gateway Pacific project proposed north of Bellingham Washington would ship 48 million tons a year and the Millenium Bulk terminal in Longview would ship up to 44 million tons of coal. All three projects would receive Wyoming or Montana coal hauled in by train. The terminals would transfer the coal to ocean-going vessels bound for Asian markets.