Photo courtesy of Washington State House of Representatives
A coal train passes underneath the Olympic Sculpture Park. Increased train traffic from the proposed coal export terminal could have a significant impact on the adjacent intersection between the railroad and Broad St.

Legislators demand thorough, state-wide review of coal port impacts

Legislators have asked Gov. Christine Gregoire to take action and have the full, state-wide impact of coal trains studied.

In a letter sent on Wednesday, Nov. 7, seven state representatives, including Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-36), signed and sent a letter to Gregoire addressing concerns about the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point, north of Bellingham. The export would result up to 18 trains, each more than a mile long, passing through Seattle and through the Ballard area every day. Every year, the trains would carry 48 million tons of coal through Seattle.

The legislators ask in the letter that Gregoire "immediately establish and empower a multi-agency task force to identify the full range of economic, environmental, transportation, and infrastructure implications of the proposed coal export terminals in our state." The task force would aid in the Environmental Impact Study, the comment period for which ends Jan. 21, 2013.

"The people of Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett are just now awakening to the stunning implications of the proposal to make Washington a major player in the global coal export industry," Carlyle said in a press release. "As an export-driven state, we have a fiduciary obligation to study the economic, transportation, and environmental ‘externalities’ and impacts given that this would effect nearly every aspect of our state’s economy for generations."

The purpose of the task force, they write, would be to gather and organize economic, environmental, transportation and infrastructure data from agencies all over the state. While the Environmental Impact Study allows for extensive review, they say it does not seem to have the capability to account for all of the impacts across the state. The legislators believe that more than just the surrounding area of the proposed coal export terminal, which lies just south of Bellingham at Cherry Point, needs to be considered.

Particularly, the task force would gather data on how increase train traffic would affect existing railroad infrastructure and traffic, freight movement to and from ports and railroad intersections with roads.

The letter follows fast on the heels of a Parametrix study commissioned by the Seattle Department of Transportation, describing the impacts more coal trains would have on Seattle specifically. The study shows that the coal trains, which can be up to 18 coal trains long and more than a mile long, could delay traffic delays at railroad crossings by one and three hours a day by 2026.

In 2015, the estimated additional daily gate down time for coal trains could be 31 to 83 minutes, the study states. This could represent an increase in daily gate down time of approximately 18 to 49 percent at Broad Street, and 15 to 39 percent at both Holgate and Lander Street.

The study also stated that the trains could block emergency access, creating more lag time for fire response, technical rescue groups, hazardous materials response, and emergency medical response.

In Ballard, the trains would cross the Ship Canal on the trestle bridge by the Ballard Locks and would travel through Golden Gardens and up north, past North Beach and on to Bellingham.

While the focus is mainly on statewide economic effects, the legislators' letter does briefly mention environmental impacts at the end. "Coal dust, diesel exhaust, air and water pollution, and damage to marine ecosystems have all been identified as potential impacts, and together they warrant an examination within appropriate guidelines by experts within our state agencies."

Gregoire is expected to respond next week.

The Seattle hearing on the proposed coal export terminal has been moved to a different time and venue due to a larger-than-expected projected attendance. The hearing is now on Thursday, Dec. 13, 4 p.m.-7 p.m., at the Washington State Convention Center, Ballroom 6f (800 Convention Place, Seattle).