BELLINGHAM - A decision on whether to put a no-coal-train initiative on the city's November ballot will go down to the wire.
The state Court of Appeals in Seattle will hear an anti-coal group's request to overrule an injunction against the measure, granted Aug. 3 by Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Charles Snyder.
The case must be decided soon to make the ballot, county Auditor Debbie Adelstein said.
"They're pushing it up against when I can do anything about it, one way or another," she said.
She initially told city officials she must know by Tuesday, Aug. 28, whether to put the initiative on the ballot. But it may be even sooner than that. The deadline for pro and con statements to go in the voters pamphlet could be as early as Friday, Aug. 24, Adelstein said.
"It's a gray area. Ideally, if they could get a court decision a little earlier, that would be all the better," she said.
The appeals court date had not been set by late Friday afternoon, Aug. 17, according to Stoney Bird, a leader of Coal Free Bellingham. The group seeks to put a Bellingham Community Bill of Rights on the November ballot. The ordinance includes a ban on the transport of coal on the city's roads or railways. It is intended, in part, to foil a proposal by SSA Marine to build a coal and bulk cargo export facility at Cherry Point.
The measure's Bill of Rights also recognizes what backers call "the fundamental right to clean air and water, to local self-government, the rights of ecosystems to exist and flourish."
The court date is likely to be on Aug. 23 or 24, Bird said - about as close to the auditor's deadline as it can get. The court probably will make a decision without delay at the hearing, Bird said.
Coal Free Bellingham seeks a stay of the city's injunction, which Snyder granted because the initiative would mislead voters about the powers the city government can legally wield, he said.
Bird likened the no-coal-train initiative to last year's red-light camera measure. Voters didn't have authority on that issue either, but the ballot outcome influenced the City Council's eventual decision to cancel the program.
"The point is to get (the no-coal initiative) on the ballot, and then the powers that be begin to understand where the wind's blowing," Bird said.
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