Arguments For and Against Coal Shipments Heard In Spokane

By Paige Browning

Hundreds of people spent their Tuesday afternoon in Spokane passionately arguing for and against a coal project in the state.  The public hearing by the State Department of Ecology was the fifth of seven statewide regarding a proposed coal export terminal for the Bellingham area.  Supporters wore green for 'go', opponents wore red for 'no coal', and both packed a room at the Spokane Fairgrounds.

If the proposal gets the green light, coal from Montana and Wyoming will travel by train through the northwest, stop at the Gateway Terminal in Whatcom County, and ship out to Asia.  The Gateway was the topic of the hearing, but there are four other proposals like it.
 
People stood outside all day - some arriving before 9:00a.m. - for the 4:00 p.m. hearing.  Among them was Bob Watters, senior vice president for the company that would run the terminal: SSA Marine.
 
Watters: “On the project itself, it’s a two year construction period, so these are family wage union jobs.  We’re a union shop.  So they’re family wage jobs.  So there’s 4,400 jobs during construction and on an operation basis its 1,250 jobs.”
 
Watters and a group of people in green shirts continued to boast about potential jobs.  But once the hearing began, that message was at times drowned out by people opposing the terminal.
 
75 people were allowed to speak on a first come first serve basis.  Spokane City Council president Ben Stuckart was number one, and addressed the overall Environmental Impact Statement the state is conducting on the proposed exports.
 
Stuckart: “I ask that the EIS be cumulative, it should look at the impacts of all five proposed coal export facilities.  And that those negative impacts should be mitigated by the involved parties is the rail traffic does go through.”
 
After Stuckart, about half of the speakers were for, and half against the terminal.  One speaker, Matt Cohen, was looking at local and global issues.

Cohen: “The increased rail traffic is going to increase diesel exhaust; it’s going to cause problems at rail crossings.  Potential problems with train derailments… well then there’s a regional issue where I don’t think this new terminal in Cherry Point is going to be good for the environment.  I think it’s going to be really bad for the marine environment and the estuary, no matter how many safe guards they put on it.  And then of course the global question, coal is a major source of global warming gas.”
 
Even some rail workers opposed the shipments and terminal.  One speaker said on already busy tracks the influx of train traffic would mean serious holdups, and some tracks would likely need to be rebuilt to handle constant, huge loads.

But about one third of attendees said Spokane would see benefits from the shipments.  Dave White was among the 75 speakers, and had a personal story about trains.
 
White: “And I used to have a shop in Cheney where they had coal trains running by every day… there was no dust coming off of those trains, and this was back in the 70’s, we’re talking about the dirty coal.  I’ve seen the coal trains come through, we need the jobs.

Bob Watters with SSA Marine says some of those jobs would be in Spokane, with the railway. 
 
Though a limited number of people were allowed to speak, anyone could submit written comments.  Comments are welcomed online as well on the state Department of Ecology’s website, through January 21st.
 
From here, ecology officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers host two more hearings in the state.  In early 2013 they will start drafting the EIS for the Gateway Terminal.
 
Copyright 2012 Spokane Public Radio
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