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How coal-port voting in Bellingham holds lessons for rest of state

In Edmonds, Seattle, Spokane, and elsewhere, organizing against a plan to export coal to China could begin right along the railroad tracks.

Runs of trains loaded with coal could increase under proposals new shipping facilities in Washington and Oregon.

Runs of trains loaded with coal could increase under proposals new shipping facilities in Washington and Oregon. Paul K. Anderson/Chuckanut Conservancy

Shipping coal to Asia has become a major business in Canada.

Shipping coal to Asia has become a major business in Canada. Port Metro Vancouver

Heavier than expected voting in Whatcom County left in doubt Wednesday the fate of two races considered important to prospects of a giant export terminal proposed for Cherry Point north of Bellingham. Clearly settled, however, is the race for Whatcom County executive, where former Lynden Mayor Jack Louws easily defeated Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale, 23,184 to 19,77 with about 24,000 votes yet to be counted.

Ericksen conceded defeat earlier Wednesday (Nov. 9). The race had been considered critical by terminal foes — Ericksen was an outspoken proponent, and terminal opponents feared he would pressure county officials during their review of project applications expected in the next few months.

In another race important to the issue, Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike, a leading voice in opposition to the terminal, continued Wednesday to narrowly trail former Rep. Kelli Linville, 8,656 to 8,233; the 423-vote Linville margin increased slightly from Tuesday. The race mirrored the dead-heat primary, won by Pike by only 28 votes. Linville has stated opposition to coal exports, which would take up 48 million of the 54-million-ton capacity of the terminal, but has been less aggressive in her opposition.

A third race of some importance tightened on Wednesday. Terminal opponents had hoped to defeat incumbent County Council member Sam Crawford; his challenger, Christina Maginnis of Bellingham, closed to within 321 votes, 20,982 to 20,661. In another closely watched county race, outgoing county executive Pete Kremen widened his lead over incumbent councilman Tony Larson, a backer of the terminal.

Whatcom County is co-lead for review of applications expected to be filed by Gateway Pacific Terminal at year’s end, along with the Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The County Council will cast important votes on the applications, and the county executive will be in a position to influence staff work. Louws has not expressed an opinion on the terminal, and terminal foes favored him over the advocacy of Ericksen.

The slow pace of vote-counting on Wednesday and the heavy turnout, already nearing 40 percent, means the Pike-Linville and Maginnis-Crawford races won’t soon be resolved. But it is possible to draw from early results some indications of how politics will play in other communities as efforts to stop the coal exports begin to move outside Whatcom County and across the state.

An analysis of city of Bellingham voting patterns reveals the importance of proximity to BNSF rail tracks in building opposition to shipments of coal from the Powder River Basin to Cherry Point. Residents near the tracks have felt disruption from noise and congestion for the year-plus since BNSF began running coal trains to British Columbia.

Ten Bellingham precincts touch on Bellingham Bay and the BNSF railroad tracks, and two additional precincts are within a “sound zone” of half a mile from the tracks. In the Tuesday night vote count (roughly two-thirds of the total expected to vote), results from those precincts heavily favored Pike and Louws, the candidates seen as most favorable on the coal-export question by leadership of the anti-coal effort. Wednesday night results did not substantially change this analysis.

This was despite the fact that eight of the 12 precincts are within legislative district 42, represented by Kelli Linville for 17 years and by Doug Ericksen since 1999. Ericksen lost by large margins in his own precincts and Linville won only one of the 12. In Democratic Bellingham, Ericksen’s reputation as a partisan Republican spokesman worked against his candidacy. Linville, on the other hand, is a familiar Democratic face and did well in the 42nd outside the “impact” zone near water. Bellingham is split into two legislative districts; the 42nd is primarily north and east, but has a leg along the city’s waterfront.

Overall, Mayor Pike had a margin of 2,381 to 1,628 in the 12 “impacted” precincts, a 59.4 percent margin over Linville. Louws enjoyed an even larger margin over Ericksen, 2,265 to 976, carrying 70 percent of the vote.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Nov 10, 12:32 p.m. Inappropriate

I must have missed half of this article. I missed the half that spoke to any positive aspects of locating a coal terminal in Bellingham. There was not one serious contradiction of any of the claims made by NO Terminal advocates. Can you spell "Puff Piece"?

With one sided "journalism" like this (and yes, I have to stretch the definition to fit the reference), there is no mystery as to the main causal factor in our election of empty shirts and drones.

Heck ! I don't even have a dog in this fight ! I ain't even gots a horse in the race ! I'm just repulsed by the propaganda (Encarta def 2: misleading publicity: deceptive or distorted information that is systematically spread).

I hope, someday, to have the pleasure of reading news articles that cover both sides of current issues. It would be good mental exercise. Unfortunately, I think the ability to execute full brain analysis has been bred out of the "journalists du jour".

Just a hint:
the unintended consequences of this coal situation are not seen in Puget Sound Metro. No doubt, you will put on your best Halloween, "am I surprised" !, look when the after-effects hit the public stage.
Laterr.
Jamesa

Jamesa

Posted Thu, Nov 10, 12:48 p.m. Inappropriate

Jamesa: You may have missed this recent article:
http://crosscut.com/blog/crosscut/20624/New-study-points-to-jobs-from-Bellingham-coal-port/
Thanks for your comments

Posted Thu, Nov 10, 3:06 p.m. Inappropriate

I am all for presenting all sides of an issue and then doing the fact checking and analysis on those issues--that strikes me as proper journalism. That said, this article is not about the relative merits and detriments of the Cherry Point terminal--coal or otherwise. This article is about the political dynamics of the issue. And residents along the rail route are feeling the impacts of increased coal train traffic to BC already, that is absolutely true. In short, this article is as advertised in the title. Thanks Floyd for covering this aspect of the issue.

bobferris

Posted Thu, Nov 10, 3:17 p.m. Inappropriate

NIMBY ABOUT COAL?
NOPE - NOT ON PLANET EARTH

Steve E.

Posted Thu, Nov 10, 8:13 p.m. Inappropriate

The author is reporting an issue that matters to Bellingham as well as other communities along the proposed railroad route, which remain underrepresented in the decision to proceed with this understandably controversial proposal. Unless these potentially negatively impacted interests find at least an equal voice in these proceedings, decisions will default to those with only short-term, selfish profit motives. Is that what is desired? I think not!
Those who 'no dog in this hunt' ought not to have much to say about it either. The problem is, we all have 'a dog in this hunt', and any success needs to be shared much more equally than the proponents expect.
Who really believes that exporting a raw natural resource to a major competitor and creditor, in exchange for foreign value-added goods and their associated exported jobs, is a good idea?
And that doesn't even count the greatly increased local nuisance, decline in property values and likely ecological degradation!
That's my view, which also represents the views of thousands of other citizens, who ought to be considered full stakeholders in this issue.

jwatts

Posted Thu, Nov 17, 12:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Jamesa,

I'll bite, Please, name for me one positive regarding this whole coal extraction, train shipment, industrial development and shipping to and burning in China of our natural resources. Maybe it's the fresh air?

hughp9

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