Mitigating Effects and Working with the Railroad


This is a Sept. 2012 article from Seattle Business Magazine.  The author, Elaine Bowers, quotes Ken Opplinger, head of the Bellingham Chamber of Commerce.  “At the Chamber of Commerce, Oplinger says he expects the BNSF Railway to “come to the table” to look at ways of lessening the impact of additional trains, including possibly moving tracks that now cross the city’s new waterfront redevelopment site and creating a federally defined “quiet zone” through Bellingham. A new route would eliminate train whistles by requiring double crossing arms, fencing near the crossing to limit pedestrian access and other safety measures. “Rather than try to fight it off,” he says, “if we can find ways to work with the railroad and mitigate the effects, we would be much better off.” 
Safeguard the Southfork has always maintained that the potentiality for employing the totality of the BNSF system in Whatcom County exists; that the alternative to the coastal route in the South Fork Valley and the farmlands of eastern/ northern Whatcom County from Wickersham to Sumas along with a Lynden spur could be employed to mitigate capacity and political impacts.  Opplinger speaks to BNSF’s need to seek compromise with the establishment of a new route and operational procedures.  
It is BNSF’s prerogative to increase capital investment and upgrade to it’s heaviest duty Ribbon Rail on the farmland route recently; even when current rail traffic does not necessarily warrant it.  Those of us who have been monitoring the improvements to enhance rail capacity through the Whatcom Farmland route as well as the Abbotsford  to Westshore (and Blaine), cringe at the possibility that GPT watchers are not sufficiently savvy to the coy game that is playing out once GPT and their friends start eyeing a “NEW ROUTE”.  
By promoting misinformation and confusion BNSF and GPT obsfucate the possibility of employing the alternative farmland route, removing it from discourse while simultaneously laying the groundwork for using the route either as part of a loop which would ameliorate capacity problems as well as, in part the social controversies in Bellingham. 
GPT watchers would be wise to familiarize themselves with the history of the state legislature’s proposed Commerce Corridor for Washington State which was studied by Wilbur Smith & Associates in 2002.  The Commerce Corridor envisioned enhanced rail and concomitant highway redevelopment from the northern border to the Columbia River and found it unfeasible for economic and environmental reasons.

The Coal Enigma

You’ve probably heard the CSX  Railroad radio ads.  It’s so easy to let it swish between your ears, “hurray for green and efficient trains”.  The pitch is: Trains can transport one ton of freight 500 miles on 1 gallon of fuel.

So here’s how it adds up for coal going to the Gateway Pacific Terminal.

One coal car carries one hundred tons. It travels about 1500 miles.

One coal car utilizes 1 gallon of fuel per mile, multiply by 3 (1500 miles) x 100 (tons) which is 300 gallons of fuel to move one car of coal from the Powder River Basin to Cherry Point.

A coal train has 150 cars, thus requiring 45 thousand gallons of fuel for one trip.  In order to gauge this; visualize a gasoline tanker truck and trailer set, you’ll need four loads, each set holds eleven thousand gallons.

If we have 9 trains per day as stated by SSA, traveling to Cherry Point, then that equals 405 thousand gallons per day for diesel fuel.

Multiply that by one year and that is 147, 825,000 gallons of fuel per year and that is one way not round trip.

147, 825,000 gallons of fuel per year, give that some thought!

We are exporting a natural resource, coal, which means more jobs for Asian manufacturers, fewer for America, and we are taking near to 150 million gallons of diesel fuel off the American market, limiting supply to American farms and industry and raising the price to American business and consumers, destroying our landscape, polluting air and water and decimating communities to do this.

How might someone who believes in the necessity of GPT explain the need for it in Wall Street’s own terms?

They Promised them Jobs

The Bellingham Herald is running a story on the International Longshore and Warehouse Union [ILWU] protests and blockades at the Port of Longview, WA and on BNSF rail lines after labor disputes with EGT Development.

EGT—a multinational corporation—publicly promised Cowlitz County that “200 workers will be employed during construction [of a grain terminal] and the facility will employ 50 full-time workers when complete.”  Such promises garnered EGT local support in Cowlitz County, additional land, as well as taxpayer subsidies for constructing the terminal.

While comments on message boards tend to focus on the angry protests of the ILWU, the history behind what is happening in Longview parallels concerns that citizens have expressed towards the proposed Gateway Pacific Coal Export Terminal and the promises made towards jobs and anticipated tax revenue.

Jobs   –   The ILWU are protesting because EGT did not keep their promise of local jobs. Rather, EGT imported the majority of its construction crews from out of state, despite Cowlitz County having hundreds of skilled union building trades workers with high unemployment rates.

Once the terminal was operational, EGT broke contract with ILWU and instead hired non-union workers to save money. This action was later followed by hiring out-of-state union members to run the terminal, which essentially pitted labor unions against each other, while still leaving Cowlitz County without their promised jobs.

Tax Revenue   –  EGT also received taxpayer subsidies to build the terminal, not to mention the decrease in anticipated tax revenue based on cheap labor practices.

I’ll close with a well-stated summary borrowed from the informative and revealing coverage on EGT and the ILWU protests put out by The Stand that articulates the difficulty of multinational corporations actually contributing to local economies:

To sum up: a taxpayer-subsidized international conglomerate, which is operating on public property, is suing the public so it can avoid paying the area’s standard wages and undercut its competitors that do. Then, it exacerbated tensions with the local labor community by importing union workers from another jurisdiction to cross the picket lines.

We’ll follow this post soon with more details regarding our concerns over SSA Marine’s promise of construction and longshoreman jobs, as well as information about why we anticipate that the permitting of GPT will bring an enormous taxpayer expense to our state that far exceeds any cost benefits we’ve heard in favor of the project.

Candidate Forums in South Fork

Don’t want a gravel pit?
Coal trains aren’t cool?
Other issues of concern?

One simple act can make an enormous difference—VOTE!
Here’s your chance to meet candidates, learn about their stance on particular issues, and express your concerns and support.

County Council Candidate Forum at the VanZandt Hall
Date: Wednesday September 7
Time: 7-9pm
Who: Alan Black, Christina Maginnis, Pete Kremen, Barbara Brenner

Please come!  Everyone welcome.  Enjoy drinks and light snacks to start off the evening.  Next, we’ll hear platform highlights from each candidate in a forum moderated by community member, Steve Powers.  Following, you’ll have a chance to ask the candidates questions and get answers.

See you Wednesday,
Anna Martin, Friends of the Nooksack Samish Watershed
Nicole Brown, SafeGuard the South Fork
Steve Powers, Community Member

 2nd Annual South Fork Nooksack River Canoe Clean Up—September 10th

The Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Associations’ work party culminates at Everybody’s Store on SATURDAY, Sept 10 from 1-3PM.

At that time Peter Kremen and Jack Louws will be present to meet and greet friends and neighbors.

There will be light refreshments and people are urged to bring a dish to make it a better time than ever.

*Please pass information on about these timely events.  Thank You!

Who Pays?

It’s amusing how two writers can go to the same Northwest Business Club luncheon lecture and come away with different reports.

The headline in the Bellingham Herald, “Cherry Point Cargo Terminal Could Help Fund Rail Upgrades”, should read, “Taxpayers to Pay through Nose for BNSF/China Coal Train.” Journalist John Stark wrote that transportation experts Jim Miller of the Whatcom Council of Governments (WCOG) and Bruce Agnew, Executive Director of the Cascadia Center for Regional Development in Everett, were encouraged by the prospect of a Cargo (sic) Coal Terminal at Cherry Point. It could provide political and financial impetus to help pay for needed rail improvements through Whatcom County and could help focus state and federal attention on transportation needs here. How sweet.

Throughout, Stark’s article deemphasized the darker aspects of the situation and both men’s comments — that despite the fact that there is a shorter, albeit more costly route through Montana, the coal trains will travel through Bellingham and that state and local officials can’t do anything about it. Agnew stated “the coal train need not be disruptive to traffic, passenger rail or other freight shippers if massive investments are made in upgrading the system.” Boosters at heart, neither Miller nor Agnew did not emphasize, nor did Stark choose to report, how disruptive the increase in rail traffic would be to street and highway transportation or how massive our public investment would be in order to relieve that congestion. Stark also failed to report Agnew’s assessment of future demands for railroad support to Boeing, to Tesoro in Anacortes, and other industries along the North Sound rail corridor? The cost for needed improvements and additional siding to accommodate this growth, including Amtrak, is several billion dollars.

Agnew, awakening to reality noted that Canadian federal, provincial and municipal governments are joining with BNSF and Canadian railroads to pour more than $300 million into the Roberts Bank Rail Corridor Program to build new overpasses, “You’ve got to deal with that upfront and invest in the infrastructure.”

Stark painted a problem free picture. Even though it is like pulling teeth to get the experts to focus on a reality which fades, victim to their allegiance to corporate conformity, WCOG & the Cascadia Center, both publicly funded agencies, have an obligation to honestly identify the true cost to be paid by the public for a new commerce corridor through Whatcom and Skagit Counties and the entire coal train route. While Congress is trying to cut trillions from the US budget GPT analysts stick their official heads in the sand.

Stark, not one to let the cat out of the bag side tracked to a questioner in the audience who challenged the $32 million state subsidy for Amtrak while completely ignoring a pertinent follow up by Mark Nelson, City Club’s preeminent inquisitor, who queried whether a farm land route through the South Fork Valley and eastern Whatcom County would be a viable alternative for BNSF. To which both experts reluctantly confessed, absolutely in the affirmative.

This might be amusing repartee for the bleakly realistic who hope the train will bypass Bellingham, but the most the ominous and wouldn’t you know, understated message from Agnew was “that some increase in exports from Canadian terminals is in the works, but those increases won’t add up to even half the nearly 50 million tons per year that could be shipped via Pacific ports. Moreover Canadian coal producers want the added capacity at Canadian ports for themselves.”

Given Governor Gregoire’s position that coal is going to be shipped to Asia one way or another, the question is who pays?

Take Action: Gravel Mining in the South Fork

Disappointedly, the Whatcom County Council voted 3-4 on August 9th to change 280 acres of forestry land to  a mineral/mining designation, which essentially lays the ground work for one of the county’s largest gravel mines to be located in an ecological sensitive area in the South Fork Valley. The rezone is on a steep slope at the base of Eddy’s mountain, located above the Nooksack and Samish Rivers and integral to salmon recovery projects in the area. In addition to the endangered Chinook, the proposed mining is in very close proximity to several organic farms that also depend on a secure watershed fueled by the aquifer recharge area that Whatcom County Council has slated for strip gravel mining.

With the council vote being so close (3-4), County Executive Pete Kremen has the authority to veto the decision based on his understanding of this unique ecologically and culturally sensitive area.

Please add your support by acting on the following request made by Friends of the Nooksack Samish Watershed, which has been leading this long fight for our water, our farms, and our rural heritage. And, please consider forwarding this onto your contacts.

The deadline is tight:  Monday August 15th

Phone (360) 676-6717

If you’d like, you can also cc, or bcc and

Feel free to copy and paste the following text into an email to Pete Kremen with any additions or changes that you would like him to know about. For example, he is currently running for County Council so, for instance,  a veto on this issue may provide a huge burst of enthusiasm for his campaign.

Dear Executive Kremen,

I was very disappointed by the outcome of the vote on the 280 MRL expansion in Acme. The county residents are very concerned about this issue and we are more politically aware and active than ever.  I realize that you are running a campaign and we are looking for a candidate that will listen to his constituency. The Council majority did not properly review the evidence or listen to the public on this issue. This area is upslope from two rivers and jeopardizes millions of dollars in restoration work, our local fisheries, and numerous local farms and businesses–all for gravel that will most likely serve Skagit and Snohomish counties where the mining company is located. Please maintain the forestry zoning of this land so that the current balance of resources–water, forest and agriculture–can continue to thrive in the South Fork valley. The Council made the wrong decision on this MRL proposal and I’m urging you to veto this regressive ordinance now, before it is too late.


Thanks so much for supporting these efforts, which will hopefully make a big difference to this part of the world.

Rail transportation experts to speak at NW Business Club

Speakers will discuss the impacts of increased rail traffic on the Portland-to-Vancouver, B.C. rail corridor, at an upcoming Northwest Business Club meeting.
The club announced that on Wednesday, Aug. 10, it’ll have the following people speaking:
  • Bruce Agnew, director of the Cascadia Center for Regional Development. The center promotes high-speed passenger rail between Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C.
  • Jim Miller, executive director of the Whatcom Council of Governments, a transportation-planning agenda.
From the club:
The current rail issue is centered on the proposed shipment of coal to Cherry Point, especially the impact of long slow moving coal trains on commerce passing along the Bellingham waterfront. A better comprehension of the rail system, its management and goals will help us understand possible effects of future changes
When: 11:45 a.m. (lunch buffet starts), noon (meeting starts) on Aug. 10Where: Elks Lodge, 710 S. Samish WayCost: $10 for annual members, $15 for others.

Read more at the Bellingham Herald’s Political Blog