MOUNT VERNON About 1,000 people, many clad in red shirts in opposition of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, packed McIntyre Hall for a public comment meeting Monday, Nov. 5.
The three-hour meeting allowed 75 people to speak for two minutes each. It was one in a series of meetings across the state taking comments on what potential impacts should be studied before the project is allowed to proceed. Although most speakers expressed grave concerns about the proposed terminals potential impacts on the environment, human health, traffic and local economies, some supporters spoke up, as well.
"We need the jobs," said Rick Poitras, a business representative for a carpenters union and one of the few attendees in green shirts supporting the project. "We need the tax dollars coming into our community."
But many at the meeting disputed the economic impact. While terminal proponents touted living wages and tax revenue, opponents worried about small businesses near the tracks losing customers and, thus, jobs and tax revenue.
"Many small communities strive to stay active and vibrant, and this is going to have nothing but negative impact, said Brad Whaley, who owns a business near the tracks. "So when we talk about job creation, let's talk about negative job loss."
More important than money to many commenters, however, was health.
Dr. Erin Charles, a pediatrician at Skagit Valley Hospital, brought her 5-year-old daughter to the podium as she pleaded with state Department of Ecology representatives to consider the health impacts of breathing coal dust and diesel particulates coming from the trains.
Railroad crossings also came up frequently at the meeting, whether due to safety concerns around the tracks or increased wait times and traffic. The thought of emergency-response vehicles waiting for 1.5-mile-long trains to pass scared many commenters.
When it came to all the impacts of the proposed terminal ecologic, economic, medical and more several commenters called on the projects corporate backers to compensate them if the terminal is built.
Bob Watters, senior vice president of terminal developer SSA Marine, did not submit comments at Mondays meeting but said his company would comply with the findings of the EIS and mitigate where impacts could not be eliminated.
"A lot of people are seeing this as an either/or proposition. We don't see it that way," he said. "We can develop family-wage jobs, union jobs, and be good stewards of the environment. We have to."
Once the comment period ends in January, Whatcom County, the Washington Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will determine what will be studied and create a draft environmental impact statement, which also will face public scrutiny.
For more information about the scoping process, dates of upcoming meetings and how to submit comments, go to eisgatewaypacificwa.gov.