The Washington Department of Ecology has denied Millennium Bulk Terminals a crucial water permit to build and operate a terminal near Longview, and the state’s business community is not happy about it.

The terminal would be the largest coal export terminal in North America, but Ecology denied the permit because the facility would have “caused significant and unavoidable harm to nine environmental areas.” Those areas include air quality, vehicle traffic, vessel traffic, rail capacity, rail safety, noise pollution, social and community resources, cultural resources, and tribal resources.

“After extensive study and deliberation, I am denying Millennium’s proposed coal export project,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon. “There are simply too many unavoidable and negative environmental impacts for the project to move forward.”

If built, the terminal would have moved 44 million metric tons of coal a year. To carry that coal, 1,680 new vessel transits would have been added to the Columbia River, accounting for a quarter of all traffic on the river. Added coal train traffic, Ecology concluded, would have compounded traffic congestion, affected emergency responders and delayed tribes’ access to fishing sites, while the terminal also would have increased diesel pollution in the area.

Construction of the terminal would have also filled 24 acres of wetland and dredged 41.5 acres of the Columbia riverbed.

Still, the potential economic benefits brought about by the terminal have several groups disappointed in the decision.

“This is a project that will bring good-paying jobs to a part of the state that really needs them, so we are disappointed by today’s decision,” said Kris Johnson, president of the Olympia-based Association of Washington Business. “Washington is a state built on trade and this project would strengthen our ability to export products to global markets — not just coal, but all commodities, including agricultural products. This would help communities in rural Washington, which have not experienced the same economic recovery as the central Puget Sound region. We need a diverse economy in which everyone — in every part of the state — can prosper.

“We are concerned about the process that led to the decision, as well. From the beginning, it has faced unprecedented regulatory hurdles that send the wrong message to employers about Washington’s openness to investment. Permitting began more than five years ago. We need companies to invest in manufacturing, construction and infrastructure to support trade. Instead of turning away investment, our leaders should be encouraging responsible growth.”

Representatives from the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports issued a statement decrying the political nature of the decision.

“Where was the outrage, the protests, the handwringing when King County dumped 235 million gallons of sewage into Puget Sound this past spring? Where was Ecology then? Why no public hearings or public admonishments? Where was the environmental outrage then?” added Mariana Parks, spokeswoman for ANWJE. “Instead, county government gets by with a $300,000 slap on the wrist. But private sector businesses, who create thousands of good-paying jobs in areas of the state desperate for work, get dragged through the political wringer for five years. And to what end?”

Millennium Bulk Terminals is planning to appeal the decision to the state’s Environmental and Land Use Hearings Office.