BELLINGHAM - City Council has approved a letter to regulatory agencies that focuses on local concerns rather than global climate change in the environmental impact statement process for Gateway Pacific Terminal, a coal export pier proposed at Cherry Point.
At a Monday afternoon committee review of the letter, Mayor Kelli Linville and council members seemed to be moving toward expounding at greater length on the city's climate change concerns related to Gateway Pacific.
But during Monday evening's council session, members voted unanimously to approve a five-page letter with a single reference to the issue of climate change from burning coal. That reference notes that the city is committed to maintaining its "healthy environment legacy, which commits the city to protect the health of Bellingham Bay and its ecological functions, as well as reduce contributions to climate change."
In a Tuesday, Dec. 11, interview, Linville said Gateway Pacific's potential impact on global greenhouse gas emissions is being addressed at great length as other government agencies and advocacy groups weigh in on what issues deserve study in the project's environmental impact statement.
After that document is complete in about two years, it is supposed to identify all of the potentially negative environmental impacts of the project, and steps that could be taken to compensate for them.
The three key regulatory agencies - Whatcom County, Washington Department of Ecology and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - want the city to focus on issues of local concern that might not be mentioned by other individuals or agencies, Linville said.
"We were trying to do what the regulators asked us to do," she said. "They want specific things. They don't necessarily want broad statements."
Climate change will also be mentioned in technical letters adding still more detail to city concerns. Those letters will be prepared by city staffers for submission to regulatory agencies, Linville said. She expects some mention of how the potential increase in greenhouse gas emissions from Gateway Pacific could undermine the goals of the city's climate change plan.
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.
Much of the letter that the council approved Monday is concerned with a wide range of negative impacts that might result from that increase in train traffic, such as noise, disruption of passenger and other freight rail, health damage from locomotive exhaust, and declining waterfront property values.