Washougal council discusses coal trains

Friends of the Columbia Gorge members hope council will approve resolution of concern

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Representatives from the Friends of the Columbia Gorge and Sierra Club, as well as other local residents, are concerned about the potential effects of having an additional 20 coal trains travel through Washougal and Camas each day.

Currently, there are two coal trains that travel through the local area per day.

Coal export terminals are proposed in Cherry Point, Gray’s Harbor and Longview, to enable coal companies to transport coal through the Pacific Northwest to Asian markets.

Samantha Lockhart, conservation organizer with the Friends, said during the Washougal City Council meeting last night the organization is concerned about the coal trains’ effects on the local economy.

“They could impact home values,” she said.

Larry Keister, of Washougal, said the Friends organization is hoping to have “a seat at the table” with Burlington Northern Santa Fe, “so we are represented as a community.”

He also mentioned concerns about air quality and groundwater monitoring.

Councilman Dave Shoemaker challenged the assumption that increase in coal trains would hurt the economy.

“It will help the economy,” he said. “It will reduce the foreign trade deficit and provide high paying jobs for Americans.”

Shoemaker also questioned the data provided during the meeting.

“Short term studies can be useless,” he said. “Environmental impact studies have a fundamental bias. I do not have a lot of faith in them.”

Debbie Cramer, a Washougal teacher, mentioned that coal dust can be linked to health issues including asthma.

She referred to children playing in the playground at Hathaway Elementary School, in the vicinity of railroad tracks.

“Families with young children live near there too,” Cramer said.

Diana Gordon, of Washougal, talked about the potential impacts of coal dust on the local air and water quality, including Capt. William Clark Park and Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

“There would be traffic congestion,” she said. “It is not in the best interest to go forward. It could affect property values.”

The Friends of the Columbia Gorge organization is hoping the Washougal council will approve a resolution that mentions the potential for traffic congestion of vehicles at railroad crossings, as well as health concerns related to coal dust and other particulates that could be blown from open coal cars. Mayor Sean Guard said he expects the coal train issue will be discussed again at another workshop.

The Camas City Council is expected to hear a similar presentation during a workshop in February.