Coal export company promises $400M in economic impact

A worker from Vigor Industrial works on the hull of a barge. Plans for a coal export facility would use barges to bring coal up the Columbia River and promise $400 million in economic impact.

A worker from Vigor Industrial works on the hull of a barge. Plans for a coal export facility would use barges to bring coal up the Columbia River and promise $400 million in economic impact.

Nowhere is the economic potential of exporting coal along the Columbia River more apparent than at Tidewater Barge Lines Inc.

The Vancouver, Wash.-based barge and tugboat operator is hoping to land a lucrative contract serving Australia coal firm Ambre Energy’s proposed $250 million Morrow Pacific coal export project.

It would ship coal on covered barges from the Port of Morrow near Boardman 190 miles down the Columbia River to a dock at the Port of St. Helens where it will be transferred to Asia-bound ocean carriers.

“It’s the biggest (potential) project we’ve looked at in our history,” said Dennis McVicker, CEO of 80-year-old Tidewater, which would use its tugs to guide coal-filled barges back and forth between the two ports. “If we’re selected to do this work, we’re going to be building four or five new boats at maybe $10 million to $11 million per boat.”

And that’s just for the project’s first phase.

Despite the economic potential, the project — and two others like it along the Columbia River — are facing a tidal wave of opposition questioning the wisdom of embracing a dirty fossil fuel some fear could bring congestion and pollution to communities in its path. Several hundred protestors flooded downtown Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square on Monday in opposition of coal exports.

Yet the opportunity for local manufacturers and service providers looking to play a role in the projects’ development is too big of a carrot to pass up.

Tidewater, with 235 employees, could add close to 100 more employees should it land the contract. Already,Ambre has opened bids to Portland manufacturers Vigor Industrial and Gunderson LLC on a $70 million contract to make 20 new barges.

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