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."
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