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Coos Bay Rail Link train cars sit empty by Coos Bay Tuesday morning. As of Sunday, the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay is no longer in negotiations to build a coal export terminal on the North Spit, clouding the future of the recently upgraded Coos Bay Rail Link line.

COOS BAY — A project aiming to ship U.S. coal to Asia through Coos Bay’s port is dead, after an exclusive negotiating agreement between the port and a California terminal operator expired Sunday.

Metropolitan Stevedoring Co., also known as Metro Ports, was the port’s last remaining partner in what was known as Project Mainstay, which originally included Mitsui & Co. and the Korean Electric Power Corp. The project’s demise had appeared likely since the port confirmed last month the two Asian companies had pulled out.

“The port is moving on to the next phase,” said port CEO David Koch in a news release. “We will focus on pursuing a viable maritime development project that can capitalize on the Coos Bay harbor’s unique characteristics — developable land, an extremely short transit to Pacific trade routes and an experienced maritime labor force.”

Project Mainstay’s goal was to develop a bulk coal export terminal on Coos Bay’s North Spit. Environmentalists have campaigned to stop proposals for five such terminals in Washington and Oregon, arguing that burning coal in Asia contributes to global warming and that huge trains filled with coal would be bad for the health of communities along the route. They have argued that demand for coal in Asia is dropping as concerns rise over its contributions to climate change.

“These companies, which are not any stranger to coal, are doing their own studies and seeing it as a bad bet,” Sierra Club spokeswoman Krista Collard told The Associated Press.

Last week, the governors of Oregon and Washington sent a joint letter to the White House calling for a study of the climate change impacts of selling U.S. coal to Asia.

A 2012 feasibility study for the Coos Bay project estimated that construction of a bulk marine terminal would cost $250 million, and upgrades to the Coos Bay Rail Link between Coos Bay and Eugene would cost $182 million. It estimated that coal exports through Coos Bay could go from 3 million tons annually in the first year to 10 million metric tons in the fifth year.

Project Mainstay’s demise won’t affect the proposed liquefied natural gas export facility at Jordan Cove or the proposed deep-sea wind power platform launching facility, port representative Elise Hamner said. Those projects would share a slip to be constructed at Jordan Cove, at a different site from the proposed coal terminal.

But the coal terminal had been viewed as a means to pay for expensive upgrades to the port-owned rail line between Eugene and the coast.

Hamner said the Coos Bay Rail Link’s 11 shippers generate enough revenue to pay for maintenance of the current rail line. But the line needs more traffic to pay for essential bridge repairs in the future.

The port’s news release said port officials plan to discuss other import/export opportunities involving port-owned industrial property. Those discussions could lead the port to solicit proposals to explore various marine cargo opportunities, the release said.

The port launched Project Mainstay in 2011. Since then, the exclusive negotiating agreement was extended several times, but it expired March 31 and won’t be renewed, the port’s news release said.

Sandra Geiser-Messerle, executive director of the South Coast Development Council, an economic development group that has championed the project, said her group was disappointed, but she praised the port’s continuing efforts to market its facility.

“As with so many things, you plant a lot of seeds and eventually one grows,” she said. “We’re just very encouraged by the process and by the port’s ability to get us on the radar screen of industrial interest.”

Associated Press reporter Jeff Barnard contributed to this article.


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