Friday, January 6, 2012

Citizens Group Seeks Ban of Coal Trains

A political action committee opposed to a planned goods export terminal says it will release a proposed ordinance later this month that would ban the transport of coal through Bellingham, Washington via train or any other means.

Organizers of the No Coal! political action committee say the proposal is being released Jan. 26 in hopes that it will be adopted by the Bellingham City Council.

The proposed measure comes in response to plans by SSA Marine to build its Gateway Pacific Terminal. Gateway Pacific, which was announced in 2010, is a planned multi-commodity export-import facility that would sit on 1,092 acres in Bellingham, which is located in Whatcom County, Washington about 17 miles south of the Canadian border.

SSA Marine says the shipping, stevedoring and warehousing facility would be the largest on the US Cest Coast, and would move dry bulk commodities such as grain, potash and coal between the US and Asian markets.

It’s been estimated that the facility would handle an estimated 54 million tons of cargo – mostly coal – annually and result in an additional 15 to 20 coal trains passing through Bellingham daily, which alarms some residents and environmentalists.

But since the interstate rail system is regulated by the federal government and BNSF Railway has a legal right of way through the city, the political action committee faces an uphill battle as far as limiting the content of what trains carry through Bellingham.

City officials have also said they have no direct legal control over the trains that would pass through the city if the GPC is built.

The No Coal! Coalition, however, maintains it’s attempting to establish legal groundwork to place rights of communities and ecosystems on equal or greater footing with the rights of railroads and other corporations.

It says if the proposed measure isn’t adopted by the Council, it would likely launch a petition drive to place ordinance on a citywide ballot.

The building of the terminal, if it ever occurs, is still years away, however. The permitting process is still ongoing, and an environmental impact study, which could take years to complete, is not expected to begin until later this year at the earliest.