A controversial proposal to build a coal export terminal in Plaquemines Parish cleared a significant hurdle when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit Friday allowing the project to move forward.
The permit for RAM Terminals, which was announced in a news release from the Corps on Monday, represents a setback for anti-coal groups and residents who have sought to block the project. Those groups still are pursuing other avenues to try to prevent the terminal from opening.
The project was widely expected to receive approval from the Corps, which is responsible only for making sure the facility will not affect navigation or flood control structures and that there is a plan to mitigate any damage to wetlands that would be caused by its construction.
An alliance of environmental groups known as the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition, along with elected officials in Jefferson Parish and residents who live along the rail lines that would bring coal to the facility, raised concerns about the project.
Those groups have argued the plan could harm the state’s coastal restoration efforts by interfering with the nearby Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion and that coal dust from uncovered trains servicing the facility could coat nearby homes with dangerous coal dust.
“Gulf families want and deserve a full analysis of how the RAM terminal would impact their quality of life and important coastal restoration projects,” Gulf Restoration Network senior organizer Grace Morris said in a written statement. “The fight for coastal restoration and healthy economic development is the fight for our lives in Louisiana. We won’t let a dying coal export industry take us down with it.”
The permit, which expires at the end of November 2017, says the Corps has no objection to RAM Terminals building and operating the facility. It includes requirements that the company build a levee up to Corps standards, not interfere with maritime traffic and maintain the site so as to avoid damage to wetlands near the property or to the banks of the Mississippi River.
About 3.7 acres of wetlands would be affected by the terminal, and the company has made arrangements to purchase and preserve 6 acres of bottomland hardwoods in Lafourche Parish as compensating mitigation, according to the permit.
The environmental coalition and local officials in areas on the path the trains would take to the terminal, including the Jefferson Parish Council and the Westwego and Gretna city councils, had called for the Corps to hold a public hearing and conduct a detailed environmental study of the facility and its impacts.
The Corps turned down those requests last month, saying such actions would not provide any new information on the aspects of the project that were under its jurisdiction.
The project still needs to receive a building permit from Plaquemines Parish.
The environmental groups also are challenging state approvals for the project, arguing that it should not have been issued a permit needed to build in coastal areas because it would interfere with the state’s efforts to restore the coast.
Arguments have been made in that case in 25th Judicial District Court, but no ruling has been issued.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.