City of Bellingham
Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike said Friday (June 3) that he will work to oppose a bulk shipping terminal at Cherry Point north of the city that plans to export some 48 million tons of coal a year to China. Pike commented after a pair of public meetings this week that brought out large-scale opposition to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal.
Although Pike has stated in the past that he wants environmental review of the $500 million project to go beyond the terminal site and include Bellingham and other impacted communities, his statement moves beyond that stated concern to outright opposition to the project as it is now planned. It is the heavy reliance on coal — nearly 90 percent of planned exports — and the resultant rail traffic that focuses his concerns.
Pike's concern about coal and rail impacts is echoed by his chief opponent in the fall mayoral election, former state Rep. Kelli Linville, who lives with her family some 75 yards from the main switching yard in Bellingham. Linville said she has always been an opponent of burning coal and supported the state's "no coal" policies; she also raises concerns about additional rail traffic.
She said, however, that she will wait for the public process to comment at an official on-the-record public hearing, rather than state her final position now. "I support the public process; let it work its way through," she told Crosscut. She noted that it would be very difficult for terminal developers to mitigate impacts to local communities, which could include major upgrades to rail crossings and other improvements.
The difference between Pike and Linville can be boiled down to timing and emphasis. Pike on Feb. 28 stated that he would await the formal process before taking a firm position on the coal port; Linville has maintained that stance throughout.
Pike said Friday he simply sees no chance that Gateway Pacific, to be operated by SSA Marine and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, which would transport the coal from the Powder River Basin to Cherry Point, are willing to consider helping local communities mitigate the considerable impact of the coal shipments.
"I hoped they would make a commitment to provide meaningful mitigations or — even better — a willingness consider other commodities, and not rely exclusively on coal exports for the terminal's financial engine," Pike said.
"Instead, these proponents brought denial of any potential harms and blatant defiance that they should change their plans in any way. In fact, it has become public knowledge that they have signed a multi-year deal with Montana's Peabody Coal to ship at least 24 million tons of coal from our sensitive shores as their major focus of business for the foreseeable future.
"That is not a future that I want to see. By any calculation, the proposed coal-dependent terminal at Cherry Point does not add up. I will, therefore, work with citizen groups, other elected officials, businesses and the health care community to oppose the current plan for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal."
Linville said she was in agreement with Pike on the matter of mitigating the impact of the coal shipments, and is also concerned that coal is to be the major export from the terminal.
Commenting to The Bellingham Herald in May, Linville noted that she had supported an earlier plan to build an export terminal at Cherry Point, but the 1992 project did not mention exporting coal. "I did not support a dedicated coal port," she said. "I'm opposed to a single-purpose port. I support a final pier up there that supports multiple exports."
She also said she fought for steps to phase out coal-fired power in this state while she was a legislator. "I don't support coal-burning," she said. "I would much rather be exporting clean energy technology to China. ... We should be investing in what we want to have happen, instead of fighting what we don't want to have happen."
The third candidate in the mayor's race, Clayton Petree, was also quoted in the Herald story as waiting for more information before deciding on the terminal. "This is a time to listen, learn, and participate — not leap one way or another based on speculation about something we don't yet know enough about," Petree said. "In this case, the boldest approach is caution." He expressed particular concern about the impact on the city's planned waterfront development.
Although Bellingham is the largest city in Whatcom County, it will be the Whatcom County Commission that will ultimately decide the fate of applications for a shoreline permit and a final project permit. Formal applications have yet to be filed by SSA Marine, although preliminary study has already begun by county, state and federal agencies. When the applications are filed, the formal process of taking public testimony will begin, with early emphasis on setting the scope of the review process.
Scoping, as the procedure is called, determines if the environmental studies will be limited to the terminal site or expanded to include impacts on Bellingham and other communities. Rail traffic drawn by the site-about 18 additional trains of more than a mile in length-will carry coal and return empties from Gateway Pacific at full capacity of the planned terminal. Several communities, including Bellingham and Ferndale in Whatcom County, are bisected by the tracks.
Friday's statements by Pike and Linville followed an intense week on the part of coalport opponents, with two large gatherings Tuesday and Wednesday night, bringing out some heated rhetoric against the Gateway Pacific proposal and the idea of exporting coal in general. The week began in Fairhaven's Village Green, where a nationally known opponent of coal took the stage before a large and enthusiastic crowd.
"This is the perfect place for this fight," environmental author and global-warming warrior Bill McKibben told a crowd of nearly 1,000 Tuesday (May 31) in Bellingham, kicking off two days of events in a community many regard as the "greenest" in the state.
McKibben, whose 1989 book, The End of Nature, was the first popular-press warning of the approach of global warming, came to Bellingham to stir what has been a relatively low-key opposition to SSA Marine's proposal to build a $500 million export facility at Cherry Point, north of Bellingham. It would export up to 48 million tons of coal annually to China, to be burned powering electrical plants there, and 6 million tons of other undetermined bulk commodities.
Enthusiasm stirred by McKibben and organized largely by Re Sources, a local sustainability organization, resulted in 800 signatures on petitions to elected officials calling for community impacts to be included in environmental impact studies for the Gateway Pacific Terminal. SSA has opposed expanding the studies beyond borders of the site, which could mean the project operators would be required to mitigate the effects of additional trains and other off-site impacts.
The tide of opposition spilled over to a Wednesday community forum called by Mayor Pike, as about 300 people packed a municipal courtroom and another 200 waited outside to address Pike regarding their concerns about the project. The mayor has said he wants community impact to be considered in the environmental reviews.
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