RE Sources is a sustainability organization, and as such, we fully embrace the notion that the economic, environmental, cultural and social impacts of a project must be fully and fairly evaluated. In our research and evaluation of SSA Marine's proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, we have uncovered significant concerns in all three aspects of sustainability: economy, society, and environment.
Moving up to 24 to 50 million metric tons of coal annually in uncovered rail cars
is a tremendous undertaking requiring at least nine additional full, nine empty, mile-and-a-half long
trains daily traversing to and from Cherry Point through downtown Bellingham. According to BNSF’s
website, these 15,000-ton trains will lose three percent of their load in
transit or 1,780,000 short tons of coal dust spread annually from the Powder River
Basin to the terminal. So, in addition to increased
exhaust,and traffic delays the City and County will also have to deal
with a significant increase in coal dust accumulating in our
neighborhoods and waterways.
Communitywise Bellingham Economic Impact Forum Videos
Economic Risks of GPT (Vimeo Link)
Tax Implications of GPT (Vimeo Link)
Coal Export Impacts on Rail Infrastructure and Property Values (Vimeo Link)
Overview of City of Bellingham's Actions to Date (Vimeo Link)
South Fork Rail Route Impacts to Agriculture (Vimeo Link)
Basics of Scoping (Vimeo Link)
We feel the negative economic consequences of this project are likely massive and include the following:
Property Value Loss: The City of Bellingham alone has roughly $15 billion in
real value which will be potentially devalued by noise (wheel squeaking and
horn blasts), coal dust, and traffic.
Property value drops as small as one percent can have tremendous consequences in terms of individual worth. These potential impacts need to be addressed in the public discourse.
Business Isolation: Waterfront businesses in the City and County will likely suffer as customers are blocked and services interrupted for significant portions of the day. Our current estimate is that SSA's impact will be in the 16 percent range but that does not include allowances for train traffic conflicts, machinery breakdowns, and weather.
Diminished Waterfront Redevelopment Success: It is important to note that when jobs are discussed, the Waterfront Redevelopment Project represents significantly greater job prospects over a longer period of time than the Cherry Point project. Much of the success of the proposed $2 Billion waterfront redevelopment project depends on attracting investors and users willing to pay premium prices for condominiums, office space, and marina slips. The premium nature of those opportunities will be significantly diminished by coal dust, noise, and train-related access issues. In sum, we suspect that it is economic folly to pursue a project yielding minimal community benefit at the expense of one that will provide larger potential benefit.
Public Expenditures: Although
SSA Marine promotes the fact that they will be paying $10 million annually in
taxes, we think that amount is inadequate considering the anticipated public
investment required. For instance, federal
law prohibits railroads from paying more than ten percent of cost for
safety improvements such as at-grade crossings.
Since these increased train traffic levels obviously require significant
safety improvements, this will seriously impact public coffers.
Aquatic Impact Forum Power Point Presentations
History of Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve (PDF)
Coal in Cherry Point Waters (PDF)
Coal Beyond Cherry Point (PDF)
DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMENTS ON GPT (PDF)
DEPARTMENT OF ECOLOGY COMMENTS ON TONGUE RIVER RAILROAD (PDF)
The environmental issues associated with this project are complicated and broad. Our environmental concerns include but are not limited to:
Coal Dust: As mentioned above coal dust will be a huge problem. At Cherry Point it will coat and cover sensitive habitats and compromise water quality. Likewise, coal dust scattered all along the route will foul water and generally lower the quality of life for all.
Proponents of the project will argue that state-of-art best management practices will be employed in every aspect of the handling of the coal, but we have heard that before in places like Seward, Alaska where the railroad and coal company are currently being sued for Clean Water Act violations, or Robert’s Bank in British Columbia where oxygen depletion is being observed in nearshore habitats and coal dust is an issue at a marina five miles from the facility. In these cases, as in others, performance speaks much louder than promises.
Physical Disruption: This project proposes to change the physical characteristics of the site in a significant manner including impacting 162 acres of wetlands and altering more than 2 miles of existing waterways. High levels of vessel traffic in the area will also impact nearshore and offshore conditions, particularly bulk carriers that are more prone to catastrophic failures. Since this area could provide habitat or needed ecological function for 12 federally protected species and seven state protected species, the exact extent of these modifications is extremely important.
In addition, we are particularly
concerned about the vulnerable Pacific herring populations (a Dashboard
Indicator for the Puget Sound Partnership’s recovery efforts) that spawn in eel
grass beds in the nearshore habitats around Cherry Point. This formerly robust population—now at five
percent of historic levels—was once a key building block of a critical food
chain that starts with plankton and ends with orcas and humpback whales. Any action that impacts eel grass or
otherwise jeopardizes this population further will have ecological as well as potential
economic impact via lost fishery or tourism revenues. To lean more about the herring population at Cherry Point read Matt Krogh's article in the Whatcom Watch from July 2010.
Mercury: Mercury pollution
is a serious threat to human health with pregnant women and the unborn being most
vulnerable to this peril. And while we have been working hard to stop
domestic sources of this deadly element, the same cannot be said of operations
in Asia. The shipment of this coal to China will result in more mercury
in our water. In fact, a 2005
study by the United State Geological Survey drew the conclusion that atmospheric transportation is the main source of new mercury
in Lake Whatcom and other Washington waterways. Thus, burning coal elsewhere, like China or other Asian countries, will increase the amount of mercury in our waterways, increasing human and animal exposure to this element. To read the article describing the sources of mercury in our waterways click here.
Geological Peril: Coal trains are long and heavy (i.e., one and half miles long and up to 15,000 tons). These trains are so heavy that they tend to flatten the rails, which causes much of much of the wheel squealing we hear during transit. These same extraordinary forces that impact tracks also act on geology. Given that much local development is on vulnerable or unstable formations such as the homes along Eldridge Avenue in Bellingham, this is a great concern that needs to be examined.
Sunday, June 16th
7:00 pm - $10 Suggested Donation
Silver Reef Casino Event Center
Haxton Way and Slater Road (map)
This historical stage play takes you back to the time of the signing of the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855, where members of the Lummi Indian Tribe traveled (by canoe) to Mukilteo to meet with Washington Territory Governor, Isaac Stevens.
‘What about those Promises?’ recognizes tribal efforts to continue a relationship with the United States government from treaty signing to present day. However issues of sovereignty, jurisdiction and land claims have been overlooked for generations. This story has been passed down from our elders so that we may never forget the broken promises. The stageplay is presented by the Lummi Nation.
LUMMI INDIAN BUSINESS COUNCIL COMMENTS ON THE GPT (PDF)
The terminal site, known by its traditional name Xwe'chi'eXen, is considered a significant cultural site and an ancestral burial ground by the first nations people of the Lummi tribe. Their claim to the site's historical significance extends back hundreds of years, as it was a village site where the Lummi have fished, gathered and lived for over 175 generations. Cherry Point (Xwe'chi'eXen) is listed on the Washington state heritage register of culturally significant places.
Ancestral Burial Site: The terminal and surrounding sites are part of an ancient Lummi village, and as such is considered by the Lummi people to be an ancestral burial site. The bones of Lummi ancestors were removed from the site during archeological excavations of the 1940's and 1950's, but the site remains sacred to the Lummi Nation, who has long opposed development of the property.
Historical Reefnet Site: For thousands of years before European settlement, Lummi people fished at Cherry Point (Xwe'chi'eXen). The Lummi developed a unique reefnet technology to harvest salmon at the site while limiting bycatch. The sites traditionally used for this purpose (Sxwo'le) are protected by treaty and are considered both critical economic resources and historically significant areas.
Treaty Fishing Rights: The Lummi people are signatories to the Point Elliot Treaty of 1855, which guaranteed the Lummi and several other Coast Salish first nations access to traditional fishing and gathering sites. In 1975, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal court decision issued in 1974 by District Court Judge George Hugo Boldt that affirmed the rights of the Coast Salish tribes to serve as comanagers of the Puget Sound salmon fishery. The threat posed by the coal terminal proposal to salmon habitat and fishery stocks has the potential to significantly impact the treaty and inherent rights (Chi'lang'e'lh) of the Coast Salish tribes to their traditional way of life.
Overview of Health Impacts (PDF)
The Toll of Coal and Heavy Metal Pollution (PDF)
Health Effects of Air Pollution and Fine Particulate Matter (PDF)
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH COMMENTS ON GPT (PDF)
WHATCOM AND SKAGIT PHYSICIANS' COMMENTS ON GPT (PDF)
The social and health impacts include many of the economic impacts listed above, as well as diesel particulate emissions from the trains, coal dust emissions from the terminal site, and public safety concerns related to traffic delays, derailments and other accidents.
Increased Cancer Rates: In addition to the mercury threat identified above, studies on the impact of train-generated diesel exhaust in Stockton, California indicated a clear relationship between the proximity to train traffic and cancer. This study observed a doubling of cancer rates within a zone of 200 yards of the rail operations. While Bellingham projected traffic levels are less than Spokane or Stockton, the relationship between diesel particulates and cancer is well-documented at multiple locations. We also have concerns that air and water pollution associated with large vessel traffic will have human health consequences as well.
Human and Property Safety: Even at our current traffic levels train-caused deaths are not uncommon. The anticipated escalation of traffic would likely increase that number. In addition, coal dust distributed on rail beds is being credited by the railroad industry with causing train derailments because the dust inhibits proper drainage of rail beds. A train derailment like the recent one in Tacoma could have disastrous consequences in downtown Bellingham and elsewhere in Whatcom County.
Regional Reputation: Many
individuals, organizations, and companies have worked very hard to create a
regional character or brand that emphasizes the perfect balance between urban
and rural; industrial and natural; and looking towards the future while
embracing the best aspects of the past.
This mixture has led to Bellingham being
identified as one of the happiest and most sustainable cities in North America.
This is a source of pride and an important aspect of our collective
self-identity. Being perceived as a
portal to the single most destructive energy source on the planet jeopardizes
this balance, our hard-earned reputation, and—ultimately—our happiness.
Although much is at stake locally regarding this project, the potential impacts are far-reaching as well and include:
US Job Loss: The enormous amount of coal being sent as an economic building block (raw material) to a country that is our direct competitor on the global market has direct economic impacts in terms of national job loss. Fifty-four million metric tons of coal will empower an estimated population of 5 million Chinese which will result in roughly 200,000 more workers making products bound for the US market and displacing a like amount of US manufacturing jobs. Do we really want to help accelerate this trend or should we be smarter?
Climate Change: A lot of impacts of this project can be avoided, mitigated, or reduced, but there is no escaping the fact that these shipments will result in approximately 150 million tons in new greenhouse gases annually. We can ignore or rationalize this factor because its impacts feel removed from our day-to-day lives, but we really do so at our peril.
Although much will be made in this debate about “clean coal” technologies and China’s advancements in the realm of pollution reduction and carbon sequestration, the truths in this matter are that there currently is no such thing as “clean coal” and while China is making bold promises, there is a serious performance gap. Overall, coal burned in the US is still cleaner than coal burned in China.
Energy Security: No rational national energy trajectory involves a scenario where the US will be coal-free anytime in the near future. Therefore, these coal resources from federal public lands we are so cavalierly sending to China are diminishing the energy security of our country. If the US were getting a fair price for this finite job-creating resource, this might make economic sense—but that is really not the case. The reason that China is buying our coal instead of using their own resources at present is that we are selling it at bargain basement prices.