Coal train meeting attracts 850 people to Clark College

Speakers talk about minimizing coal dust and creating jobs

Approximately 850 people on both sides of the coal train issue attended a hearing Wednesday, at Clark College. The Washington Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are conducting an environmental impact statements process for a proposed terminal project in Whatcom County.

Two halls in Clark College were recently overrun by men, women and children dressed in red and green T-shirts.

Some of the colorfully-clothed individuals also wore Santa hats, and they talked about coal — not as lumps found in Christmas stockings — but in trains that could travel through Camas and Washougal, among other cities.

Pacific International Terminals is proposing to build and operate the Gateway Pacific Terminal between Ferndale and Blaine. The terminal would provide storage and handling of coal, grain, iron ore, salts and alumina.

Whatcom County, the Washington Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are conducting the environmental impact statements process for the proposed terminal project.

Approximately 850 people attended a scoping meeting at Clark, and more than 150 of them were selected in drawings to each have two minutes to speak in front of the crowds holding signs expressing sentiments against coal or for jobs.

Local speakers included Robert Hill, a Washougal resident for 15 years.

As a representative of the Washington State Legislative Board for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, he said more than 140 members in the Vancouver area have an interest in the Gateway Pacific Terminal project.

Hill spoke in favor of using the National Environmental Protection Act and State Environmental Protection Act processes that are already in place to evaluate the merits of the project.

“Some are suggesting main line rail routes from Cherry Point to the Powder River Basin should be studied under a programmatic EIS,” he said. “Most main line rail routes on the Northern Corridor were established in the 1800’s and are governed under existing interstate commerce law.

“Over the years, the railroads have made the improvements needed to accommodate interstate rail traffic,” Hill added. “Trying to apply the programmatic ‘stamp’ to the existing main line rail infrastructure accomplishes nothing other than clogging the courts with frivolous litigation and delaying a sound NEPA/SEPA process that already ensures a thorough review. Washingtonians need job opportunities, and they need them now.”

Warren Shoemaker, of Camas, talked about the potential increase of train traffic.

“We live near the tracks,” he said. “It’s a cute downtown. We hear the trains. Ten more trains would be really annoying.”

Shoemaker said biofuels are competing with “cheap coal.”

Teresa Robbins said she spoke on behalf of the health and future of Skamania County.

She talked about train noise and the potential for a derailment.

“You need to fully investigate contamination to the river and refuges,” Robbins said.

Mark Chamberlin, of Washougal, said he was a cynic and pessimist concerned about climate change and global warming.

He described the “800-pound gorilla” in the room to be an increasing demand for resources.

“You need to think about the legacy you want to leave,” Chamberlin added.

Larry Keister and his wife Sherri, of Washougal, wore red shirts to show opposition to the coal trains. A day after the scoping meeting, Larry mentioned in an email the negative impact that the increase in rail traffic will have on Washougal.

Washougal Mayor Sean Guard did not wear red or green to the meeting.

He talked about Washougal being one of the cities to ask for a hearing in the local area.

“Washougal is not against trains, not against exports, commerce or jobs,” Guard said. “With five at-grade railroad crossings, we are concerned with additional time and air quality issues as cars stand idling in traffic.

“Washougal is merely interested in knowing that what passes through our community is safe from any health and safety issues, and we desire assistance with a mitigation plan for any vehicle traffic and any potential health issues,” he added.

The Washougal City Council approved a resolution on March 19, that urges several agencies to include potential impacts of increased rail traffic in the scope of an environmental impact statement. The resolution also requests that Washougal be made a party of record for each EIS process.

The Camas City Council approved a similar resolution March 6.

After they are transcribed, comments submitted at the Clark College hearing will be available online at www.eisgatewaypacificwa.gov/. Additional comments, due by Jan. 21, can be emailed to comments@eisgatewaypacificwa.gov.