Coal port testimony: The public speaks

Green Acre Radio talks with the people attending public meetings about proposed facilities to export coal to China. The vast majority are opposed.
Supporters hoist anti-coal signs for a speaker at Friday Harbor.

Supporters hoist anti-coal signs for a speaker at Friday Harbor. Floyd McKay

Editor's note: In two reports originally broadcast on KBCS, Martha Baskin captured audio shapshots of the public views presented in Bellingham and Friday Harbor on proposals for a coal port at Cherry Point, near Bellingham. A Seattle hearing will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Dec. 13 at the Washington State Convention Center's Ballroom 6F. First, here's her first report from Bellingham and the script for it. Her second report  lower down the page. includes interviews with those who’ve been challenging Corp decisions for the last decade and a response  from the Army Corp of Engineers.

A proposal to build North America’s largest coal terminal in Bellingham to ship coal from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin through Washington to Asia, drew thousands at the first formal public meeting. The meeting and subsequent ones around the state are the first phase in an environmental review process where key agencies will decide what factors to consider as they determine whether to approve or deny permits for the terminal. 

Click on the player above or here to listen to the audio version of this story.

Proposals to ship more than 150 million tons of coal through Washington and Oregon have been underway for the last year. Seattle-based SSA Marine proposes to build North America’s largest coal export terminal in the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve near Bellingham. Recently, at a meeting in Bellingham, the public was given the first formal opportunity to weigh in on the proposal. The Army Corp of Engineers, Department of Ecology and Whatcom County are conducting hearings to determine what impacts to include in an Environmental Impact Statement. 

First, the voices at a rally held outside the hearing to stop coal exports. Drumming from the Lummi Tribe’s Justin Finkbonner welcomed the crowd. “The message we’re taking today is very important.” Walter Young is a commercial fisherman, father and grandfather. “I don’t have anything prepared, all I have is what’s in my heart and what’s in my heart is I care about our Mother Earth. I care that corporations want to come in and rape and plunder and go away and leave us holding the bag.” In his testimony before the Army Corp of Engineers and Department of Ecology, Young recalled when an aluminum smelter facility, Intalco, was built and ships from all over the world began docking in Bellingham. They discharged hundreds of gallons of bilge a day. “And all these foreign organisms that do not belong in our environment got into our water. First victim was the herring run. This was the largest herring run in the world.” The herring has never recovered, says Young, nor the salmon which rely on herring as their main source of food. “We dropped the ball and did not make them conform to EPA regulations and we’re paying the price for it.” 

Jay Julius, a full-time fisherman with the Lummi Tribe also came to testify against the proposed coal terminal. He began fishing as a child with his grandfather. “Our ability to fish has been narrowed to a small portion of what used to be large for us — all the way to the Pacific Ocean. And this would take away a great portion of our fishing not only halibut and salmon but also our ability to bring back documented reef netting sites.” Julius is concerned about the size of the coal tankers which can be as long as thousand feet or triple the size of a ferry. “These will be monstrous tankers, 465 a year, more than one a day. So if I’m out there outside Cherry Point where I fish, and I’m currently fishing today, as we speak, and it’s foggy, I can’t get out of the way nor can they stop and the impacts could be devastating to our people; not only our people but the state fisherman. If this goes through it is rape of the Point Eliot Treaty of 1855. We have experienced molestation of the treaty in the past, for the last 157 years. This would be dagger in us. It would be ripping our heart out.”


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Nov 14, 2:54 p.m. Inappropriate

I keep getting the feeling from these articles that many of the folks testifying don't quite understand what a "scoping" hearing is about. It's purpose is simply to identify the topics to be studied in the proposed project's environmental impact statement. What really matters here is whether the impacts are broadly or narrowly defined. A broad definition would include cumulative impacts to climate change from increased coal-burning and adverse effects to all the communities along the entire rail haul route. A narrow definition would limit the focus to impacts to Cherry Point and its immediate environs. The hearings on whether to actually approve or deny the project's permit applications won't be held until after the EIS is published. Between now and then I'd recommend doing some serious independent research and community organizing -- and saving some of that good righteous anger for later on when it will really matter.

woofer

Posted Thu, Nov 15, 2:08 a.m. Inappropriate

The China Coal Ports are not a good idea. I do not mean to be mean; but could the name "Salish Sea" go away? It is so trite it is gagging.

jhande

Posted Thu, Nov 15, 10:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Salish Sea is the name for the entire watershed of the Puget Sound, Straight of Georgia & Juan De Fuca. The reason that the name was adopted is due to the need for the entire watershed to be managed as one. Americans and Canadians have been serving their own countries interests over the health of the Salish Sea and look at the results.
The fact that the EIS could be limited to Cherry Point underscores this problem. Obviously a coal port that involves trains and boats that transport the coal 1000's of miles is going to impact the entire region.
Believe me the Whatcom County Planning Department is ill equipped to handle such a review process. Their job is to approve work, which brings in revenue that keeps their jobs going.
Remember Clark County, the fastest growing county in the State, well now the entire planning department has been laid off.
So to call the Salish Sea name trite is to miss the point, as where we are at is a crossroad, do we keep choosing jobs over the negative impact to the environment, or do we stop using dirty energy and create better jobs that don't harm the environment? Do we allow individual companies and land owners to develop more land at the expense of the overall health of the region?
Bellingham claims they don't know why their Herring population crashed at Cherry Point. So why would they consider another polluting project? Because they want the money. An EIS doesn't stop any project, it just adds a few band-aides to appease the opposition.

Blake

Posted Thu, Nov 15, 10:49 a.m. Inappropriate

Here is the data: The Cherry Point area was historically the most highly productive area for herring in Puget Sound, producing an estimated 32 percent of all the known herring spawning in the Sound, prior to a precipitous decline of 94 percent from 1973 to 2000

Blake

Posted Wed, Feb 26, 6:42 a.m. Inappropriate

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