Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Coal Terminal Game is Changing and Bellingham is a Star Player


I was talking with someone this weekend and they made two comments that simply amazed me.  The first was that coal terminal opponents seemed to not be making progress on the Cherry Point issue.  What?  My immediate response was to ask that person to look at statements made by project proponents in April at the City Club debate and compare them with them with the recent comments made by Faith Lumsden with the governor’s Office of Regulatory Assistance.  What seemed fast-tracked in April now seems mired. 

As facts become known and attention focused on this project the opposition grows.  Trackside mayor after trackside mayor in Washington State are stepping up to voice concerns and often opposition to this project from Bellingham to Spokane.  And just last week the Port of Skagit issued a broadly distributed letter with the line: Let there be no doubt, the Gateway project as currently proposed will have a very negative impact on our local economy.  Now some have contrived to portray this letter as conditional support for the project, but clearly their support—like RE Sources’—is for something much smaller and more right-sized for our community and others. 

So how far have things moved?  In April, we were looking at starting a scoping process in June or July.  Now the start date is anyone’s guess and no EIS contractor has been identified or even a “request for proposal” refined and issued.  Moreover, the scope of the scoping process has increased with the addition of the Department of Ecology as co-lead agency and promises of sessions in Seattle as well as Whatcom County.  We think the geographic extent of the session will only increase as more and more communities realize that this level of train traffic will bi-sect their towns and business districts. 

In April also, SSA Marine was arguing that the analyses be limited to on-site impacts and that train traffic and ship impacts should be excluded for scrutiny.  Now SSA Marine has shifted from optimistic and empowered permittee to dealing with solving problems associated with them violating county, state, and federal laws and regulations.  Much has certainly changed.

The second comment that bothered me was that Bellingham was not a player in this debate because we lacked jurisdiction and a legitimate voice.  Really?  Somehow this belief does not comport with the cause-and-effect relationship with the above movement on this issue.  What was the catalyst for the various rail town mayors to get involved?  Where did the noise originate to take the Governor from project proponent to nearly neutral on this issue?  And where would folks in this camp think that the initial beating drum was located that led to coverage of this issue from Blaine south to Seattle?  The answer in my mind is obvious and resounding: This started in Bellingham and is led—in large part—by Bellingham.

An EIS process—particularly one that involves so many and so much—is a large and complicated beast.  We in the Pacific Northwest should feel pride that we have moved the needle on this project a considerable distance from “full-speed ahead” towards “are you kidding?”  Let’s all continue to ask questions and lend our voices to this issue.  It is important work that will earn us gratitude from future generations.


Bob Ferris
Executive Director






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