Even so, close to 700 people turned out Wednesday night for a public hearing on the Gateway Pacific Terminal, which could be built near Bellingham, Wash.
The people who oppose the Gateway Pacific coal export terminal greatly outnumbered those who favor the plan. Earlier hearings held in towns closer to the proposed terminal drew a more even mix of supporters and opponents. Although the Vancouver hearing was a five-hour drive from the proposed terminal, it’s right on the rail line for coal trains that would deliver coal from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana.
It was the latest in series of public hearings around the state on the project. The final one scheduled is Thursday in Seattle.
The gatherings are meant to inform government agencies’ decision on the scope of their assessment of the environmental impact the Gateway Pacific coal terminal might have. An environmental impact statement is supposed to uncover the ways a project could hurt people and their environment.
The challenge for opponents living a great distance from the project’s proposed site near the Canadian border: persuade regulators they should take into account the impact not just of the terminal and its immediate surroundings, but also the effect of train traffic passing through hundreds of miles of the Northwest — including along the Columbia River.
Bob Rees is the president of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association. Rees came to the hearing to tell officials he is worried about the impact of diesel train pollution and coal dust on the fishing industry.
“Putting an additional 10 trains per day down the Columbia River Gorge is going to have overall negative impacts for salmon and steelhead populations as well as a declining sturgeon population that we are trying to rebound,” he said.
Speakers were chosen at random — a break from the first-come, first-served approach that led coal terminal support groups to hire temporary workers to stand in line on behalf of speakers at earlier Gateway Pacific hearings.
Many of the proponents of the coal export terminal represent labor unions. One of them is Robert Hill, who sees the project of a job creator — even for people living far from Bellingham.
“This is all about jobs for Washingtonians — for people who don’t have jobs and good paying jobs,” said Hill, a locomotive engineer and a legislative representative with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.
Thursday’s hearing on the Gateway Pacific proposal is at 4 p.m. at the Washington State Convention Center.
The Gateway Pacific project is one of five coal export terminals proposed in the Northwest. Demand for coal in Asia is behind the push to transport it from Powder River Basin mines in Wyoming and Montana through Idaho, Washington and Oregon to ship it across the Pacific Ocean.
(Hover over markers to hear reports on coal in communities of the Northwest. Then click “website” for more EarthFix coverage. Click here for larger map view. Note: Train routes are approximations. They illustrate potential corridors based on existing lines and publicly available information.)