I first paddled the waters at Cherry Point three years ago. As the newly hired North Sound Baykeeper at RE Sources, I was learning about my job: managing a program dedicated to protecting marine habitat and water quality in Whatcom and Skagit counties.
Until that paddle I hadn't known how simply stunning this unique reach is. Reading about Cherry Point and its once-massive runs of herring - which the aquatic reserve was created to help recover - can't do justice to my experience paddling a kayak past massive Dungeness crabs and iridescent algae, listening to song birds, seeing a single eagle sitting in a snag by a rare salt marsh, watching a small flock of migrating surf scoters dive for food.
Despite decades of decline, Cherry Point remains a beautiful, viable ecosystem and a key to the health of our part of the Salish Sea. It helps support a recreation industry, fishing and crabbing fleets, tourism jobs, orcas and our quality of life. But the coal port would jeopardize all of this and more.
If built, the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal port is guaranteed to spill tons of coal every year into the nearshore where herring spawn. It would massively increase vessel traffic and therefore the risk of a catastrophic oil spill. Terminal operators would demand more of an already-scarce resource: fresh water, more than 5 million gallons of Public Utility District water daily to control dust and combustion of the uncovered piles. This terminal would cost taxpayers hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in rail improvements. And the coal port would damage our reputation as a clean, green agricultural and recreational region.
Only last week, at least 30 tons of coal spilled into the water at the Westshore coal terminal (just north of the border) when one of their coal ships rammed their pier. In 2012 -- so far -- more than 20 coal trains derailed around the U.S .and British Columbia, leading to loss of life and costly cleanups. We can only expect the same here if the coal terminal is built.
I've been out to Cherry Point; destroying that place is not a risk I'm willing to take. I encourage you to go out too, take a look, and ask yourself: is this something I'm willing to sacrifice? Is damaging this place something I'm willing to subsidize with my tax dollars, so that Goldman Sachs, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and Peabody Coal can make billions in profits? I bet you, like me, will say "no!"
Matt Krogh is a resident of Bellingham.