BELLINGHAM - Climate change from coal-burning emissions should be listed as a concern in a city letter to regulatory agencies reviewing the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal export pier, City Council members said at their Monday, Dec. 10, meeting.
During an afternoon committee session, city planner Steve Sundin reviewed a draft of a letter meant to outline environmental and economic issues that city officials believe should be addressed during the two-year environmental impact statement process for Gateway Pacific.
Sundin said city staffers who worked on the letter thought it best to stick to immediate city concerns within their level of expertise.
Broader issues, such as climate change from coal burning, are being raised forcefully by others during the regulatory process.
But council members said they preferred to make it clear that city officials share concerns about climate change.
Jack Weiss noted that the city has developed its own climate change action plan to decrease the city's greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible. Weiss said it seemed appropriate to mention city concerns about the issue, since any increase in Chinese coal burning caused by Gateway Pacific exports could cancel out the city's efforts.
Council member Michael Lilliquist agreed, saying the letter to regulatory agencies should make specific reference to the city's own program to address climate change.
Mayor Kelli Linville agreed.
Gateway Pacific, proposed by SSA Marine of Seattle, would export coal and perhaps other bulk cargoes from a pier at Cherry Point, loading cargoes shipped by rail onto freighters bound for Asia.
The cargoes would reach Cherry Point via the BNSF Railway Co. line through Bellingham, and that could mean as many as 18 additional trains per day, including both northbound loaded trains and southbound empty ones.
The five-page draft that Sundin presented to council is full of detailed concerns:
Health impacts on city residents;
Impact on other freight rail users and Amtrak passenger trains;
A possible new siding in Bellingham that could force closure of street-rail crossings such as the one into Boulevard Park;
Impact on wildlife habitat and trail access within the city;
Noise and vibrations in neighborhoods close to the tracks, especially Edgemoor, South Hill and Columbia;
Impacts on potential land use along the waterfront, downtown, Old Town and Fairhaven;
Potential decreases in property values and property taxes;
Negative impacts on job creation and retention within the city.
Sundin also told the council that city staffers are drafting an additional, more technical letter that will ask regulatory agencies -Whatcom County, the Washington Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - to consider Gateway Pacific's impact on the goals and policies in the city's transportation and land use plans, among other things.