SEATTLE — Hundreds of supporters and opponents of a plan to ship coal to a northwest Washington terminal gathered Thursday in Seattle for the final public meeting on the controversial proposal.
Six other public meetings were held throughout the state concerning a possible coal export terminal near Ferndale.
Those opposed to the idea staged an outdoor protest at a park near the Washington State Convention Center, where the Seattle meeting was being held. Among the worries are coal’s contribution to global warming and the potential impact to the Puget Sound’s ecosystem.
Labor unions representing construction trades also gathered at the convention center, saying coal shipments will require expanded port facilities, which will boost jobs in the region.
King County Executive Dow Constantine spoke to opponents, saying he opposed shipping up to 18 trainloads of coal through the city, which he called the county’s “jewel.” Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen spoke to supporters, saying the coal shipments can be done in an environmentally sound manner.
The Seattle hearing was moved to the state convention center because it can accommodate 3,500 people. About 650 people attended a Wednesday night hearing in Vancouver and hundreds more attended recent meetings in Spokane, Ferndale, Bellingham, Mount Vernon and Friday Harbor.
The prospect of long coal trains rolling through Seattle’s downtown waterfront is not welcomed by Mayor Mike McGinn. He announced Wednesday the city would commission a study of the local traffic and safety impacts of an estimated 18 coal trains a day.
The $600 million Gateway Pacific Project proposed by SSA Marine of Seattle at Cherry Point is the largest of five proposed terminals in Washington and Oregon to ship coal from Montana and Wyoming to power plants in Asia. The terminal could handle up to 54 million bulk tons a year. It could handle other bulk cargo, such as grain.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington State Department of Ecology and the Whatcom County Council scheduled the hearings to identify issues to be studied. The public comment period remains open through Jan. 21, and then an environmental impact statement will be drafted.
Other coal export ports are under consideration at Longview and in Oregon at Coos Bay, Port of Morrow and St. Helens. A proposal at Grays Harbor has been shelved.
“Have you experienced what coal dust can do to property? I have,” Vancouver resident Toni Montgomery, who lives near a railroad track, said at the Wednesday meeting. She told the Vancouver meeting pollution and train congestion are significant concerns. “It’s a dangerous mess,” she said.
Locomotive engineer John Lawson of Kennewick spoke in favor of coal exports in Vancouver, The Columbian reported.
“My biggest concern has been the impact on the economy,” he said, adding such projects “provide a tax boost to our state” to pay for services.