Coal train foes, supporters pack Seattle hearing

SEATTLE — Hundreds of people dressed in red rallied in Freeway Park on Thursday afternoon to protest the proposed Gateway Pacific marine export terminal at Cherry Point.

The terminal would bring more trains laden with coal to the region, including on the railroad tracks that run through Snohomish County.

Most at the rally wore red shirts that read “Beyond Coal Exports” and carried signs that said “No Coal Exports. We Can Do Better.”

Among them was Robyn Ingham, of Edmonds. She wore a sign attached to her red headband.

“People who support this say hundreds of jobs will be created, but how many thousands of people will have their health jeopardized by the coal dust off these trains?” Ingham said. “And what about climate changes due to coal being burned in China? That’s where this coal is headed.”

After the rally, people filed into the Washington State Convention Center. About 2,500 people packed two large ballrooms at the center, where those selected by lottery testified during a public hearing run by the state Department of Ecology, the Whatcom County Council and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In the hearing rooms, a sea of anti-coal red, including Santa hats and Christmas sweaters, was punctuated by people wearing green shirts labeled with “Let’s Get to Work.”

Rodney Bakken, of Bothell, who held a sign with the same slogan, attended the hearing to show his support for the proposed $600 million shipping terminal near Ferndale in Whatcom County.

“We hear all the time that we lack jobs. Well, this is an opportunity to provide some good work,” Bakken said. “All human activity creates an impact on our environment. The railroad has proved it has a good safety record. If we don’t have this terminal here, the jobs will go someplace else.”

Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon spoke at the rally and then at the hearing.

“The Tulalip Tribes support job creation. We are one of the largest employers in our area,” Sheldon said. “But we will not tolerate anything that poses threats to our cultural resources, our health and our treaty rights to fish, hunt and gather. The tribes and local, state and federal governments have worked hard to improve the environment, but it won’t mean much if we find coal dust in fragile waters of the Salish Sea.”

The tribes also are concerned about the marine tanker traffic and impacts to the regional economy.

“In Marysville, 18 of those mile-long coal trains running through our community each day causing long traffic delays is unacceptable,” Sheldon said. “And we will never put up with the degradation of our Coast Salish sacred lands. Tulalip says ‘hell no’ to coal.”

Jay Julius, of the Lummi Tribe near Ferndale, talked about the sacred lands at Cherry Point.

“Our ancestors are buried there, and no amount of conveyor ramps overhead will mitigate for the location of that terminal,” Julius said. “Would you allow a shipping ramp over Arlington National Cemetery or Gettysburg or Jerusalem?”

Trains running on Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks would bring coal from Wyoming and Montana through the state, including through Edmonds, Mukilteo, Everett, Marysville, Lakewood and Stanwood.

In Edmonds, Marysville and Stanwood, trains run at the same grade as automobile traffic. The long trains could cause major traffic problems, officials in those cities have said.

Colleen Rowe and Mike Shaw, a retired married couple from Edmonds, have lived nearly their entire lives near the railroad tracks in their hometown.

Shaw said he is concerned about coal dust in his garden, where arsenic, lead and mercury could harm the food he grows.

“And at just the current level of coal trains passing by our home, when Colleen cleans our inside windows, her dust cloth is black,” Shaw said. “What is being proposed could lead to a serious degradation of our lives.”

The hearing Thursday was the largest and last in a series of six public meetings about the Gateway Pacific Terminal, which is proposed by SSA Marine Inc., of Seattle. People still have until Jan. 21 to comment at www.eisgate waypacificwa.gov.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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