Whatcom County residents need to realize that the majority of Bellingham folk and its economic development community prefer to see the “Coal Train” go anywhere but through Bellingham. If you think the “Coal Train” will absolutely go up the coast and an alternative roundabout farmland route to the Cherry Point Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) is impossible, then you need to improve your chess game. Gee whiz, the spokeswoman for BNSF Railway told Mayor Pike that the Coal Train was destined to go through Bellingham? And didn’t Ken Opplinger, president of the Bellingham Chamber of Commerce helplessly declare that those trains headed to British Columbia were going through Bellingham one way or another.
We are being played by BNSF. Forget what apologist Opplinger swears to, because coal trains to Canada are easily routed through Great Falls Montana from the coal fields in Wyoming. If you want the truth ask the Great Falls police, who dealt with 13 derailed coal cars returning from BC at 3:00 AM October 14, 2010.
BNSF has a problem coping with “diminished capacity”. Anticipating an exploding Asian appetite for coal via GPT, with an additional twenty to thirty trains per day over and above its daily freight and passenger service, their single track from Mt. Vernon to Bellingham is a choke point destined for expansion should GPT be approved. For this reason alone people living along the Farm Land Route in Whatcom County have something to worry about.
BNSF may assert that Bellingham is the only route and the alternative route: Skagit County, the South Fork Valley, Sumas, Lynden and Ferndale is uncalled for, but those who safeguard the South Fork Valley know they do as they please. Do they dare eschew the Farm Land route in writing? Over a 20 year period BNSF, old hand that it is in getting its way, cleverly used “delayed stage timing” as a tactic to sidestep environmental review of its Tongue River Project in Montana, thus transforming a once bucolic farmland into an industrial nightmare. It could happen here.and it is realistic to ensure that this alternative route be included in any environmental review of GPT.
Whether the train goes through Bellingham or the Farm Land route all of us will have to engage these environmental challenges. Unique to the Farm Land route however will be the modernization of the rail and highway corridor from Wickersham to Ferndale. Today there are 91 public railroad crossings throughout Whatcom County. Unless this county is to look like a third world country most of these crossings will be upgraded with improved warning lights and gates. In many cases, especially along Hwy 9, overpasses will be the only solution for the prompt passage of emergency vehicles. Indeed the whole state faces this problem.
It was Senator, then Representative Doug Ericksen, (the current candidate for Whatcom County Executive ) whose Transportation Committee ten years ago, enthusiastically commissioned the study for “Commerce Corridor” from Sumas to Tenino. This was a dry run for what confronts us today. To the sponsor’s surprise the study concluded that this highway/rail project was basically unaffordable and unacceptable. To wit, numerous environmental issues, one for example in the South Fork Valley above the Samish River headwaters was insurmountable.
The Commerce Corridor study never attempted to envision the long term impact on the people along the corridor. Although building overpasses at critical intersections would necessarily obliterate a few small towns, causing some dislocation and create the need for relocating and redeveloping, Acme, Van Zandt and Nooksack, the study did not anticipate the infrastructure and zoning changes that it could trigger. It all came under the heading of progress.
One does not have to be a conspiracy theorist to think the mile and a half long coal train is destined to travel through the South Fork Valley. The handwriting is on the wall. Anything detrimental about it is equally detrimental to everyone in the county and the state. The bankrupting cost of build out will fall to the taxpayer and once again the common folk will be footing the bill for those who would make us do it for them