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In our view / EIS on coal trains

Study seismic effects on bluffs

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By Dean Smith
On Monday I attended the scoping hearing on the Environmental Impact Study that will be performed pursuant to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point, near Bellingham, to export coal. This was one of six hearings being held around the state to determine how much area and what issues will be considered in the EIS. Sentiment was overwhelmingly in favor of an extensive study and issues ranging from health to traffic to climate impact of moving and burning 50 million tons of coal per year. I had wanted to speak to the issue I will describe below, but, alas, only 75 people were allowed to speak. I had to be satisfied with a written submission.
My request is that the EIS include a comprehensive study of the seismic effects on the bluffs along Puget Sound and downtown Everett. I want to see actual measurements and cumulative calculations, not just some mathematical model. The plan would include the passage of nine loaded trains, each 1 1/2 miles long, and nine empties through Everett each day.
My concern that these seismic effects are not so visible and will take some time to manifest. My background in physics helps me to understand that any kind of motion generates sympathetic vibrations in surrounding objects. The coal trains that will bring the coal to Cherry Point run for many miles at the base of a fragile bluff between Edmonds and Everett. The bluff has been subject to frequent landslides every year that I have lived here.
These very heavy trains, traveling at any speed, will set up little tremors in that soil and those tremors will accumulate into major landslides along the bluff and cracks in the historic buildings in Everett. Indeed, when I walk along the trail in North Everett to the little park at the mouth of Pigeon Creek, I can already see the evidence of numerous such faults beginning already. Unfortunately, most of the train tracks along that bluff are off-limits to walkers so the total effect is difficult to assess.
In Everett, some of the trains now are observed passing through an old tunnel under the downtown. I am concerned about the vibrations caused by the trains causing failures in our historic downtown buildings. I live two blocks from the tracks and I can feel the heavy coal trains passing.
Mayor Ray Stephanson told us at the October Council of Neighborhoods meeting that the city of Everett will join with other cities along the coal train route to express concerns to the state Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Furthermore, he stated that the city's concerns will be made public for comment before they are submitted. I anxiously await that statement.

Dean Smith lives in the Port Gardner neighborhood of Everett.

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