By MICHAEL WHITNEY
Published June 13, 2012
Everett has yet to chime in on coal trains
EVERETT - A company’s plan to build the largest shipping terminal on the West Coast near Bellingham stirs protestors as far south as Everett, but what is the level of concern here in Everett?
The concern opponents bring up is not the magnitude of the terminal, but what will be sent through it: coal. Supporters, including ardent advocate U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, say the terminal will be an economic boon for Whatcom County.
Seattle-based SSA Marine proposes running 18 coal trains a day from Wyoming and Montana through Snohomish County to a proposed $500 million port in Bellingham called the Gateway Pacific Terminal. Up to 54 million metric tons of coal would be shipped to China from the port. If the port is not built, there is talk the trains would go through to a Canadian port instead.
Elected officials in multiple cities, including Edmonds, Marysville, Bellingham and Seattle, have adopted resolutions opposing the project. Mukilteo signed off on a cautious letter in April expressing concern and a desire to be involved in the environmental review process.
Everett, meanwhile, has chosen to remain silent.
Mayor Ray Stephanson or the City Council could pursue writing a resolution addressing the coal trains, but so far there hasn’t been any interest, chief administrative assistant Debra Bryant said last week.
Attempts to reach Council President Ron Gipson for comment were unsuccessful.
The 1.6-mile-long coal trains would roll through Everett by way of a crossing at the Snohomish-Lowell River Road, through underpasses downtown and along tracks under the bluffs of Grand Avenue.
In Everett, the issue only appears to be a conversation among grassroots opponents. The project gained opposition from most members of the Occupy Everett movement and has been brought up at some neighborhood meetings, but that’s as far as it’s gone.
Mukilteo’s letter, which requests to be part of Whatcom County’s environmental review of the terminal project, is largely neutral. Coal trains would go past Mukilteo’s beach and Japanese Gulch on Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail lines, city planning director Heather McCartney said.
The city wrote to Whatcom County’s planning department with concerns that increased train traffic could affect air quality in downtown Mukilteo and trigger landslides along the tracks. The city writes in support of the economic growth the terminal will bring regionally, but asks Whatcom County planning staff to consider impacts to Mukilteo in the letter.
The project could be years down the road, but people are agitated now. It could be as late as 2014 before a final environmental impact statement is completed by the state Department of Ecology, according to a timeline produced in 2011.
Marysville, which has at-grade rail crossings at some of its main thoroughfares, would be most affected locally by the slow-moving trains.
The proposal agitates opponents because the coal is a dirty energy source and the plan sends American resources to America’s leading competitor: China.
SSA Marine promotes the Gateway Pacific Terminal as promising “1,250 permanent jobs and $200 million annually in new economic activity,” National Geographic reported in a October 2011 article.
Opponents argue the jobs come at the cost of the environment and public health from the coal dust that will come from the train’s open-top hopper cars. They also have concerns about traffic congestion and rail noise. (Rail line owner Burlington Northern Santa Fe introduced rules in 2011 requiring shippers to use chemical agents to drastically reduce the amount of coal dust the hoppers give off.)
It is unclear how many opponents come from Everett, but in Bellingham, protestors repeatedly have voiced opposition against the coal train plan. Bellingham’s then-mayor was against the plan because he didn’t want coal shipments running through his town, the Bellingham Herald reported in 2011.
Larsen, a Democrat representing the 2nd Legislative District from Snohomish County northward, is one of the strongest supporters of the Gateway Pacific Terminal plan. He calls it an economic stimulus and job creator for Whatcom County. Supporting the import-export business is a key point in Larsen’s economic platform for Washington’s growth.
His vocal support also appears to raise opponents’ ire the most.
In April, 70 protestors crashed a private re-election fundraiser for Larsen that featured a key SSA Marine official as the main guest, according to the Bellingham-based group Socialist Alternative.
Last fall, members of Occupy Everett spoke out about the coal trains at Larsen’s Everett office. Larsen wasn’t available and his community representative Luke Loeffler handled the complaints.
One occupier told Loeffler the coal export jobs are unwanted.
Loeffler responded: “He’s said he’d rather export product than export jobs to other countries.”
Many occupiers embraced the fight against coal trains months ago on environmental health reasons.
“The bottom line is there is no clean coal,” Albert Penta of Monroe said.
“The bottom line is China will buy coal from us or from somewhere else,” Loeffler responded.
An occupier at the meeting replied: “They can buy it from somewhere else!”