Bellingham may help fund study of coal port health impacts

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 4, 2013 

BELLINGHAM - City Council has asked Mayor Kelli Linville to consider budgeting $20,000 to $25,000 for an independent study of coal terminal health impacts to be done in 2014.

Council members unanimously approved the non-binding request at the suggestion of council member Michael Lilliquist. Lilliquist noted that the council has already voted in favor of asking regulatory agencies to conduct a wide-ranging study of health and climate impacts from Gateway Pacific Terminal, a coal export pier that SSA Marine of Seattle wants to build at Whatcom County's Cherry Point.

The coal that would be loaded there would arrive by rail. At maximum capacity, Gateway Pacific could handle nine loaded trains per day, with as many as eight of those trains carrying coal. The trains would go through Bellingham to get there, and return empty along the same route.

Lilliquist said Bellingham should be ready to join forces with other local governments along the rail route to pay for comprehensive studies of the effects of Gateway Pacific and other proposed Northwest coal terminals, making sure that the combined impacts get adequate attention.

Supporters of such a study say it is not yet clear if the regulatory agencies will require backers of individual terminal projects to help pay for a study that assesses combined impacts, including impact on climate change from the burning of exported coal.

City Attorney Peter Ruffato told council members that regulatory agencies have not yet issued their decision on how broad a study they will require Gateway Pacific's backers to pay for, and the kind of study the council is seeking may yet be included in the official process.

Council members said they were not yet ready to commit city funds to such a study, but they want to consider that funding as part of their 2014 budget discussions this fall.

"We're not making any commitments at this point," council member Terry Bornemann said.

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/politics or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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