Friends of the Columbia Gorge is pleased to report on successes met and challenges faced in the spring of 2013.
With generous support from members, volunteers and others, Friends was able to oppose the threat of coal exports, fight damaging wind energy and natural gas developments, monitor radioactive waste transport proposals, deepen our connection with our membership through improved communication and analysis and continue outreach with our hiking and other events in the Gorge.
Objective: Ensure Energy Development and Transportation does not harm gorge
- Wind Energy: Ensure no new wind turbines near the
Scenic Area boundary and no new adverse impacts to Gorge resources.
- Natural Gas Power Plants: Ensure development does not
increase Gorge air pollution: NO NEW UPDATE
- Coal Export: Stop major coal transport proposals
through the Gorge.
- Radioactive waste: Stop radioactive waste transport
proposals through the Gorge: NO NEW UPDATE.
Ensure no new wind turbines near the Scenic Area boundary and no new adverse
impacts to Gorge residents.
Friends maintains a strong litigation position with the Washington Supreme
Court on the Whistling Ridge wind energy project decision, filing objections,
making oral arguments and submitting briefs. On June 27, Friends gave oral
arguments in front of the Washington Supreme Court for the first time since
2000, arguing that the site of the Whistling RIdge project, just on the edge of
the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and well within view from inside
the Scenic Area, was not properly vetted during the application process and did
not adequately consider the potential harm the turbines pose to wildlife,
recreation, and scenic views. The Court's decision is expected this fall.
Stop major coal transport proposals through the Gorge
As the main transportation link between the Intermountain West and the Pacific
Ocean, the Columbia Gorge is the West’s default corridor for energy
transportation. Plans for five, large-scale coal export proposals have
been proposed in the Northwest. Coal would be transported by rail from
the Powder River Basin in Wyoming to the Pacific Northwest for export to Asia.
The only feasible route for transport is through the Columbia River
Gorge. Coal exports could exceed 150 million tons annually, resulting in
30 mile-long coal trains per day with uncovered coal cars. Increased coal
transport would increase fugitive coal dust and diesel emissions, create the
need to double track the rail lines of the gorge and disrupt local
To meet this threat, Friends has joined with the Power Past Coal
Coalition. The coalition of 90 groups, including Sierra Club, Climate
Solutions, Earth Justice, Greenpeace, Washington Environmental Council and
Columbia Riverkeeper, is working to stop coal export proposals from moving
forward. Friends plays a crucial role within the coalition as the
only organization with the sole mission of protecting the Columbia River Gorge,
a federally protected area impacted by all five export proposals. Friends’
bi-state voice in the coalition enables us to effectively organize work with
elected officials in both states. Friends’ long-standing relationships in many
communities facing adverse rail traffic impacts resulted in numerous city and
county resolutions and letters against increased coal transport. The broad
community and coalition response to this threat inspires civic engagement and
effective alliances with a diviersity of constituencies.
Friends and others have laid considerable ground work securing opposition
letters from over 60 communities and elected officials. As the process moved
into hearings and reviews of Draft Environmental Impact Statements (EIS),
Friends worked with the coalition to expand the scope of the review. Friends
recently hired Senator Ron Wyden’s former chief of staff to encourage the
Senator (now the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee) to
actively engage in the coal export issue and call for a broader environmental
The Port of Morrow proposal is the first to move forward in Oregon. Due
to pressure from the Power Past Coal Coalition, Ambre Energy was forced to
apply to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for air and water
quality permits. In addition, the Ambre Energy project needs permits from
Oregon DSL and the Corps of Engineers prior to construction. The DSL removal
and fill permit, which could have been issued as early as April 1, 2013, has
been delayed until September 2013. This is the first permit coal export
permit decision, making it a major opposition focus. On July 9, the DEQ held
public hearings in Portland and Hermiston, OR. Friends and our allies organized
hundreds of people to appear at the hearings to comment against granting a
permit for the Morrow Pacific Project, as well as holding a "People's
Hearing" outside Portland's Oregon Convention Center that was given wide
coverage by local and regional media.
On a broader scale potentially impacting all the coal export proposals, on June 5 Friends joined the Sierra
Club and other organizations in filing suit against Burlington Northern Santa
Fe Railway (BNSF) and several coal companies for violations of the federal
Clean Water Act after collecting evidence demonstrating the companies'
responsibility for emitting coal into waterways in several locations across
Washington, including the Columbia Gorge.
Friends also commissioned a poll with Oregon pollster Grove Insights to gauge Oregonians' support of the various
coal export proposals, particularly when informed about the potential harm to
the Columbia Gorge. The poll findings, released June 27, show that a plurality
of Oregonians already oppose coal export, a number that grows signficantly when
respondents are given information about potential harm to Gorge environment and
Objective: Build public support for long-term Gorge protection
Friends continued its successful hiking and outings program. A new addition to the hiking program was
launched in Spring 2013: Play and Stay. Part of the Gorge Towns to Trails concept encouraging recreation blended with economic development, the Play and Stay weekends provide guided outings starting from the same
community. The intent is for hikers to play and stay overnight, enjoying what the commmunity has to offer.
Friends also launched Flower Frenzy, its 2013 hike challenge. As in previous years, the hike challenges
help promote and deepen connections to the Gorge. The challenge has been very popular and more than 80 hikers have submitted completed "flower logs" of Gorge wildflower they found and identified while on trails.
Friends thanks its members, volunteers, and others' efforts to protect the Columbia Gorge for future
generations to enjoy.