by Associated Press
PORTLAND - The National Marine Fisheries Service wants the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to at least temporarily deny a permit to dredge the Columbia River to build a liquefied natural gas import terminal below St. Helens.
In a letter last month, the fisheries service said the terminal likely would harm valuable salmon habitat.
Northern Star Natural Gas Inc. wants to build the terminal, one of three under active consideration in Oregon, at Bradwood Landing. The other two in planning stages are near Astoria and Coos Bay.
The fisheries service asked that permission be withheld until it has more information.
A NorthernStar spokesman characterized the letter as routine, and said NMFS's skepticism is typical.
"There's nothing that we see unusual here," said Joe Desmond, NorthernStar's senior vice president of external affairs. "Until they have all the information, they're not in a position to say yes."
Building and operating the terminal, as well as dredging to make way for tankers, likely would affect vital estuary habitat, the NMFS said.
The agency noted that the Columbia River estuary has been referred to as "the most valuable spawning and nursery area for salmon in the continental United States."
It said the "survival and recovery" of salmon and steelhead protected under the Endangered Species Act depends on the health of the Columbia.
NorthernStar plans to pull 700,000 cubic yards of material from 46 acres of riverbottom, deepening the riverbed by more than 9 feet.
The company has proposed its own salmon recovery plan, which would contribute $50 million over 35 years to habitat recovery.
The NMFS said it wants a guarantee that the recovery efforts will proceed if NorthernStar falls on hard times and suggested a bond be posted "to ensure habitat impacts are fully restored or mitigated in the event of bankruptcy or abandonment."
CalPine, which initially planned to build a terminal at the mouth of the Columbia River, declared bankruptcy, but former CalPine executives and others are reviving efforts to build the facility.
The NorthernStar project is the farthest along in Oregon in the federal approval process.
Fisheries Agency will Explain Estuary Plan by Erik Robinson, The Columbian, 1/26/8
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