A planned terminal near Bellingham that would be used to export coal and grain to Asia could nearly double the number of freight trains rumbling through Snohomish County.
The Gateway Pacific terminal would mean jobs, according to those planning the project. It also could mean long traffic del
ays at railroad crossings and pollution from coal dust, opponents say.
The terminal would cost between $500 million and $700 million and is probably at least four years from becoming a reality, said Craig Cole, a consultant working for SSA Marine, Inc. of Seattle. That’s the company that wants to build the terminal at Cherry Point north of Bellingham, near Ferndale.
The company has yet to apply for permits but expects to do so soon, Cole said. The plan likely will have to undergo two years of environmental studies and the terminal would take two more years to build, according to Whatcom County officials.
Opponents, which include environmental groups and Bellingham activists, say the plan would add to greenhouse gases, diesel exhaust from trains, coal dust pollution, traffic jams and noise.
“There are a multitude of reasons for us to be against it,” said Bob Ferris, executive director of ReSources for Sustainable Communities, a Bellingham environmental group.
The terminal would add up to 18 round-trip trains per day, with about 125 cars per train, to the Seattle-Bellingham corridor, Cole said. This would include items to be shipped other than coal, including grain, potash and scrap wood for biofuels — up to 54 million metric tons per year.
About 15 trains of all types, including freight trains and Amtrak passenger trains, run north and south between Everett and Bellingham every 24 hours, said Gus Melonas, a spokesman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe. About 27 trains per day, plus eight Sounder commuter trains, run between Seattle and Everett.*
Up to three trains each day already are carrying coal, Melonas said.
Extra trains would mean more waits at crossings. The tracks pass through Edmonds at the ferry dock and through downtown Marysville near I-5.
“I’m concerned about the long-term impacts in particular because we have an on-grade crossing,” Edmonds Mayor Mike Cooper said. He added that long delays could affect ferry operations.
Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring said he didn’t know much about the terminal plan and was hesitant to comment.
SSA Marine is owned by Carrix of Seattle — 49 percent of which is made up of an infrastructure fund controlled by Goldman Sachs, the New York investment firm. The fund is financed by long-term investors, Cole said.
“People are talking about companies sitting on their cash and not investing in their renewal, so when people are putting money into infrastructure, it’s a good thing,” he said.
The terminal would be built on 1,100 acres owned by SSA Marine, Cole said. The property is already home to two oil refineries, one for Conoco and one for BP, and an aluminum plant.
Cherry Point is one of only three ports on the west coast of North America that can handle giant ships without massive dredging, Cole said.
These vessels, called “capesize” ships, transport goods in bulk compartments rather than in containers and are the most efficient way of sending goods to Asia, he said.
The two other ports are in British Columbia — the Delta terminal at Tsawwassen, near Vancouver, and another in Prince Rupert. All the coal shipped from the Northwest goes through these two ports.
Most of the coal comes from the Powder River Basin in northeast Wyoming and southeast Montana, Cole said.
It is brought on trains along the Columbia River Gorge to Vancouver and sent north, eventually running through Seattle, Edmonds, Mukilteo, Everett, Marysville and Stanwood on its way to Canada, Melonas said.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, said he favors the terminal because of the potential for jobs.
Estimates from the company figure the construction work would create up to 1,700 jobs and 4,000 temporary spin-off positions, and eventually the terminal would employ 300 people and generate 1,000 connected positions.
Larsen said he understands the objections and encourages opponents to bring their issues to the environmental study process.
Still, he said, “I’d rather be exporting coal and grain than jobs.”
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.
An earlier version of this story reported incorrect totals on the number of train trips per day.
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