It's official: The initiative attempting to prohibit coal shipments through Bellingham will not be on the ballot in November.
In a brief opinion issued Monday, Aug. 27, the Washington Court of Appeals upheld an Aug. 3 decision from Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Charles Snyder, who found that the anti-coal ordinance and Community Bill of Rights proposed by the Coal-Free Bellingham group could not withstand post-election legal scrutiny, and would be misleading to voters if they were put on the ballot.
Stoney Bird, a Coal-Free Bellingham organizer and spokesman, said the group would issue a statement on the Appeals Court action on Wednesday, Aug. 29.
After hearing legal arguments from both sides on Aug. 3, Snyder granted the city of Bellingham an injunction blocking the anti-coal measures from the ballot, even though supporters gathered about 10,000 signatures - more than double the number they needed to meet the legal requirement for presenting the measure to city voters.
The proposed ordinance banning coal shipments through the city seemed to go well beyond the city's legal authority under state and federal law. City attorneys advised the City Council to seek the injunction to avoid further legal headaches, and the council unanimously agreed, setting the stage for Snyder's action.
Coal-Free Bellingham organizers and their attorney, Breean Beggs, asked the Appeals Court for an emergency stay of Snyder's injunction. In a one-sentence ruling, the higher court denied that request:
"A majority of the (appeals court) panel having determined that said motion should be denied because the trial court (Snyder) did not err in concluding that City of Bellingham initiative 2012-2 exceeds the legislative authority of the city of Bellingham and thus its initiative power; now, therefore, it is hereby ordered that appellants' motion for emergency stay be ... denied."
The Appeals Court ruling came just one day before the printing deadline for ballot materials for the Nov. 6 general election.
Coal-Free Bellingham mounted the petition drive in reaction to SSA Marine's plan for a coal export terminal at Cherry Point, at a site between the BP Cherry Point refinery and the Alcoa Intalco Works aluminum smelter. If that project survives regulatory review, coal from Montana and Wyoming mines would be shipped through Bellingham by rail, to be loaded onto ships for export to Asia.
That prospect has spurred widespread concern about the impact on the city. Opponents cite issues that include global warming, coal dust, diesel emissions, and delays at railroad crossings.
Rail and coal company officials say the concerns are overblown. Although the coal is carried in open cars, the loads would be treated with a spray that minimizes dust problems, according to spokesmen for Peabody Energy, which has announced its intention to use the Cherry Point terminal if it is built.
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