By Amy Daybert Herald writer
EDMONDS — Mayor Dave Earling for months has followed news about the Gateway Pacific Terminal project, a proposed coal terminal near Bellingham.
The project by Seattle-based SSA Marine would add up to 18 coal trains passing through Edmonds every day en route to Whatcom County. Coupled with projections that the city will see up to 100 trains of all kinds traveling through Edmonds by 2030, the coal trains are a concern when it comes to ferry traffic and public safety, said Earling.
“We are the only city that has the at-grade crossing railroad that interferes with the state ferry system,” Earling said. “Every other city that has a port for the ferry does not have train conflict, because they have an overpass or because they have an underpass.”
Earling said he has discussed the problem with legislators, the Washington State Department of Transportation and Washington State Ferries. He and groups in the city that also are worried about the growing number of trains are hoping to draw attention to the issue at 11 a.m. Wednesday at a “Don’t Block Our Beach” rally at Brackett’s Landing South, adjacent to the ferry dock. The rally is sponsored by a coalition of Edmonds Chamber of Commerce, Sustainable Edmonds, the Port of Edmonds, Edmonds Senior Center, the City of Edmonds and Fire District 1.
Earling also plans to introduce a concept for an underpass near the ferry terminal that would allow ferry and emergency vehicles to avoid train traffic at the Edmonds waterfront. Such a solution would take time and require financial help from the state and federal governments, Earling said.
“This will be a large undertaking and it’s going to be a long-term commitment by a number of people,” he said.
The idea sounds reasonable, said Paula Hammond, secretary of the state Department of Transportation.
“It’s no secret that we’ve got a lot of conflict in that area where our ferry dock crosses Railroad Avenue,” she said. “The notion is right. I think that as our economy recovers and our ports increase the work they’re doing, we can only expect more train traffic. It’s a good problem to work on.”
Up to 42 trains now pass through Edmonds every day, Earling said. The trains require ferry traffic to stop and prevent emergency vehicles from crossing the tracks to reach the waterfront, Edmonds Underwater Park, Edmonds Senior Center, the Port of Edmonds and businesses.
“We can’t predictably get to the port,” Earling said. “There might be a safety issue when someone on a boat in the port has a heart attack and they don’t want to wait five minutes while a train goes by. If there’s a fire, we have the same thing.”
Todd Cloutier, a member of Sustainable Edmonds, said the coalition wants the environmental impact statement for the coal terminal to include an assessment of how the project would affect all cities along the railway and not just the area where construction occurs.
“They’re going to build something that’s going to significantly increase our rail traffic,” he said. “There’s no place in any of our laws or procedures for an environmental impact statement to take into account the impact of the construction project for Edmonds.”
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, favors the terminal because of the potential for jobs. All environmental and economic impacts from the increased rail traffic also must be fully accounted for and addressed in the scoping process, he said in a written statement.
“My top priority on this project is making sure that all affected residents have the opportunity to get their questions answered, and have their thoughts included in the decision-making process,” he said.
The Edmonds City Council last November passed a resolution stating the city’s opposition to transporting coal across the state on BNSF Railway Co. tracks. The coal terminal is only part of the discussion when it comes to train traffic and the Edmonds waterfront, Earling said.
The “Don’t Block Our Beach” rally about the growing number of trains going through Edmonds is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at Brackett’s Landing South, adjacent to the ferry dock.
For more information, go to the Don’t Block Our Beach Facebook page at www.facebook.com/DontBlockOurBeach.