BELLINGHAM - This week city leaders will discuss a resolution that calls for close study of potential rail crossing headaches from SSA Marine's proposed Cherry Point coal and bulk cargo terminal.
That discussion is scheduled during a 2:10 p.m. Monday, July 2, committee session in council chambers at City Hall, 210 Lottie St. A vote on the resolution could come during the 7 p.m. regular City Council session.
Among other things, the proposed resolution would endorse a so-called "programmatic environmental impact statement" that would look at the total potential impact of all the proposed coal and bulk cargo terminals in the Pacific Northwest. Some shipping and business interests have opposed such a study, saying it would set a precedent that could impose huge new regulatory burdens on industrial development projects.
But environmental groups contend that the true environmental costs of the projects can't be measured if each proposal is studied separately.
The proposed resolution also calls for review of the potential Bellingham impacts that would result from the likely increase in coal train traffic through the city if Gateway Pacific is built. It also stipulates that the cost of any transportation improvement projects required to accommodate that rail traffic should not be borne by the city.
On the same topic, Communitywise Bellingham released a new study of Gateway Pacific's potential rail impacts earlier this week. That report, from Gibson Traffic Consultants, underlines earlier warnings from CommunityWise about the potential consequences of the trains themselves and the lengthy rail siding that could be needed to get those trains through the city. Among other things, such a siding would cut off vehicle access to Boulevard Park.
BNSF Railway officials have contended that they could manage the coal train traffic without building that siding, but CommunityWise spokesmen scoff at that contention.
Finally, the resolution requests "a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment" to be conducted by an independent contractor to analyze potential health risks to city residents. The Whatcom Docs organization of local medical professionals has made repeated calls for a health study, warning of the potential hazards of increased diesel emissions, coal dust and lengthened emergency response times when rail crossings are blocked by coal trains.
Also on the 2:10 p.m. committee agenda is a presentation from the Washington State Department of Transportation on rail issues related to Gateway Pacific.
In a memo to the city, state transportation officials say they support the call for a close look at the impacts of increased freight rail traffic.
"We envision requesting that local impacts associated with site development and traffic impacts and conflicts between rail, ferries and roads are included in the scope of the environmental process," the memo states. "We also anticipate inclusion of the potential benefits to freight movement in Washington state."
Some transportation planners have contended that the increased rail traffic from Gateway Pacific could help generate the revenue needed to cover the cost of reducing or eliminating bottlenecks on the north-south rail line that serves both BNSF Railway Co. freight trains and Amtrak.