The Project
Morrow Pacific will ship intermountain coal to the Port of Morrow by train. From there, specially designed barges will move the coal to the Port of St. Helens, where it will be transferred to ocean-going (Panamax) vessels bound for U.S. trading partners on the Pacific Rim, such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. The project is designed to meet Oregon’s high standards. All facilities will be enclosed, barges will be covered, and all operations will be designed to eliminate dust and spillage. 

The Morrow Pacific project will create more than 2,100 temporary construction-related jobs and more than 1,000 ongoing operations-related jobs, and provide millions of dollars annually to both Columbia and Morrow. The project is being developed by Ambre Energy North America, an emerging energy leader with head offices in Salt Lake City.

Barge Operations
Barges will carry the coal to Port Westward Industrial Park at the Port of St. Helens. There the coal will be transferred directly to Panamax vessels, so no ground storage facilities will be needed at Port Westward. The coal will be transferred using a state-of-the-art $40-million transloading vessel utilizing special unloading gear by Siwertell, a company known for unloading bulk vessels cleanly. All stages of the transloading operation will be enclosed. In early 2012, the Port of St. Helens voted unanimously to enter into a terminal services option agreement with an Ambre subsidiary, Pacific Transloading.

The left image shows an aerial view of the Port of Morrow site for construction of the rail-to-barge facility. On the right, an artist’s concept of the rotary dump, enclosed storage buildings, and enclosed conveyors linking rail-to-storage-to-barges.

Ambre had special enclosed barges designed by Glosten & Associates to maximize locking efficiency in the Columbia River locks, and to eliminate the release of coal dust into the air. Tows will consist of four large barges and one towboat. Two of the barges will be 308-ft x 46-ft x 16-ft and two will be 275-ft x 46-ft x 16-ft, leaving a notch aft of the shorter barges suitable for a 4,000- to 6,000-hp, 96-ft tow boat. The estimated coal capacity of a tow would be 13,300 metric tons (mt), similar in capacity to a typical Ohio River tow. Forge Group (formerly Taggert) is designing the systems that connect the barge unloader with the ship loader, along with environmental controls, wash-down water treatment and dust control measures.

Initially, Ambre anticipates shipping 3.5 million mt/y of coal to trade allies. Full operational and permitted capacity is expected to be 8 million mt annually, subject to port approval.

Rail Service
Unlike many of the other proposed coal terminal sites in the Pacific Northwest, the Port of Morrow already has a loop track suitable for unit trains of coal. Also, the port is served by the UP, which offers some valuable alternatives to BNSF-captive terminals. UP is capable of originating coal tonnage in the very low sulfur mines of the southern Powder River Basin (PRB), Wyoming’s Hanna Basin, Utah and Colorado. BNSF can originate coal tonnage throughout the entire PRB, including the Decker mine. BNSF cannot originate coal from the Hanna Basin mines of southwestern Wyoming. UP’s direct route to the Port of Morrow goes through Pocatello, Idaho, but does not go through any Washington cities. 

It is apparent that coal originations in northern Wyoming and Montana, both BNSF-only states, would require joint hauls necessitating cooperation between BNSF and UP. The two railroads have already decided that BNSF-originated trains would hand off to UP in Spokane.

At the Port of Morrow, unit trains would be unloaded by a dust-suppressed in-line rotary dump facility onto a tube-enclosed conveyor belt. The conveyor would move the coal quietly and cleanly into a dust-controlled covered storage area, where it would await reclamation. Stored coal would be reclaimed into covered barges via tube-enclosed conveyor belts.

Permits Received
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality finally issued three draft permits in May related to Ambre’s Port of Morrow Project. The three draft permits released were the Standard Air Contaminant Discharge Permit, Industrial Wastewater Permit and Stormwater Construction Discharge. The process dragged on for a suspiciously long period—Ambre Energy initially applied for the permits in February 2012—but it’s moving again, and representatives said the project, barring further delays, could be operational as soon as early 2015.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) announced in June that it won’t conduct a sweeping review of Ambre’s proposed coal facilities. The USACE declined to conduct a programmatic review of coal export facilities in the Northwest, which would receive coal from mines in Wyoming, Montana, and perhaps Colorado and Utah. This was not the extreme position environmentalists had hoped for, but was a refreshing reminder that the Corps is in the business of issuing or denying permits, not working hand-in-glove with environmental activists for the express purpose of blocking coal terminals. Even so, Anderson Perry & Associates, a Pacific Northwest engineering firm, prepared a 553-page environmental review at Ambre’s expense for the Coyote Island terminal dock at the Port of Morrow, a report that is available online at


Transloading site at Port Westward. Panamax vessels will be moored alongside the dock at the end of the abandoned railroad trestle. Ambre’s transloading vessel will come alongside Panamax vessels and be secured for the transloading operation. No coal will be placed on the ground, and the site will remain as it is shown in this photo. (Photo courtesy of Anderson-Perry Engineering)

Coal transloading operation at Port Westward. The illustration shows a Siwertell-equipped unloading vessel between coal barges and an ocean vessel.

Federal officials were prodded to conduct “a programmatic and comprehensive environmental impact statement.” Corps officials suggested in unredacted portions of emails that they were unlikely to conduct a programmatic assessment, which would evaluate greenhouse gases and other potential global impacts of exporting PRB coal to Asian countries. A programmatic environmental impact statement, or EIS, would almost certainly add lengthy delays to the permitting process for the projects. 

Opponents of coal export facilities know that one way to discourage coal development is through a constant barrage of unsubstantiated accusations and analysis paralysis. Drag the process out as long as possible while businesses striving to meet relevant standards burn through millions of dollars, eventually giving up. Manipulate the process in order to achieve the outcome of the policy you wish you had. This despicable tactic goes back at least as far as the 1970s, when Southern California Edison finally gave up on its Kaiparowits Plateau coal mining and power production plans. They spent more than $25 million reacting to every whim of the Sierra Club and other environmentalists before throwing in the towel.

Transloading Coal to Clean Vessels at Port Westward
Significantly, the Morrow Pacific Project would stop ocean-going vessels 53 miles inland on the Columbia River, far short of Portland. No one would ever see an ocean-going Ambre coal vessel in the middle or upper reaches of the river. The downstream dock at the Port of St. Helens (Port Westward) would only be used for two things: mooring the vessel for loading and parking the transloader vessel while waiting for the next vessel to load.

It is important to understand that while the Portland General Electric Co. (PG&E) has objected to Kinder Morgan’s coal terminal proposal at the Port of St. Helens, both Ambre and the Port of St. Helens have received PG&E’s tacit approval for the transloading operation. The Kinder Morgan proposal was unrelated to the Morrow Pacific Project.

Columbia Pacific Biorefinery (CPBR) is a co-located user of the dock facility. Ambre has worked closely with them to make the repairs needed on the existing dock. CPBR has also applied for a Corps Section 10 permit for a dock to be located upstream of the existing dock. The current dock is for multiple users, and not for the exclusive use of Ambre’s Pacific Transloading subsidiary.

The Siwertell inlet feeder for a vertical screw was invented in 1974 by two Swedish inventors, Olle Siwersson and Gunnar Tell. The potential for using the screw for a ship unloading application was recognized at an early stage, and the Siwertell ship unloader was born, and so was the company AB Siwertell. Siwertell unloading equipment is well known in the bulk cargo unloading industry. The Pacific Transloading subsidiary would use a Glosten & Associates-designed vessel equipped with two Siwertell unloaders and one ship loader for the clean transloading operation. It has a theoretical throughput of 4,000 mt/h, and it does not store coal on board.

Getting Realistic
In spite of all the scare mongering by activists of all types, neither this terminal project nor any other will produce coal smoke nor significant amounts of coal dust. Shipping low-sulfur coal to South Korea will result in producing less air pollution at the power plants, not more.

It is an accepted fact that PRB coal is much lower in sulfur than the typical steam coal produced in China, and would produce a much purer air stream than the coal China is burning now. Believe it or not, the Chinese are also interested in reducing air pollution. The same is true for other Asian countries who must import coal to meet their own needs. If they cannot get clean-burning PRB coal, they will continue to burn Chinese coal, and they could care less what the Sierra Club thinks about it.

Stopping Pacific Northwest coal export terminal projects won’t prevent Pacific Rim countries from burning coal. For the foreseeable future, the rest of the world is going to generate electricity using coal. So is the United States, notwithstanding the proliferation of natural gas and windmills. Why not help ourselves by enabling Asian power plants to burn PRB coal, as environmental activists have forced U.S. power plants to do at great expense for the past 50-plus years?

Gambrel was director of transportation for Peabody Coal Company and represented the company on the Management Committee of Dominion Terminal (DTA) and was a senior negotiator for the LAXT coal terminal in the Port of Los Angeles. He managed Peabody’s ship chartering activities, and chartered many Panamax and Capesize vessels. He may be reached at