SGSF formed in response to public statements made by local officials and community groups in Bellingham, WA recommending that the impacts of coal trains on Bellingham be mitigated by rerouting those trains through the South Fork Valley. In response, BNSF commented that they are not interested in the route because it requires“costly upgrades to the existing line, as well as a far more lengthy route to the shipping terminal.”
While at first pass such a statement by BNSF may seem reassuring, our research into similar permitting processes shows that BNSF has a history of delaying interest in alternative routes for coal trains and railroad expansion projects [see specifically Analysis on page 2], putting at risk the transformative impacts of an entire project being evaluated as a whole or by a single Environmental Impact Statement.
Also relevant is the 1992 Commerce Corridor Study that evaluated the feasibility of a proposed transportation corridor through the farmlands and agricultural communities of the South Fork Valley and north to the Canadian border through the Nooksack Plains. While the report found there to be significant economic and environmental costs and community action derailed the project, the second recommendation in the final report recommends that a NS freight corridor be considered.
SGSF has come to call this alternative route the Farmland Route, because it cuts through some of the most productive farm valleys and agricultural communities of Whatcom County. A rail expansion project connecting the existing route to Cherry Point is shown here in the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan’s rail line map, showing an east/west rail proposal from Lynden to Custer.
While BNSF says it’s not planning to use the Farm Land Route, nothing exists to prevent it from being used or developed as a coal transportation corridor if it is not adequately included as part of the Environment Impact Study.
SafeGuard the South Fork is currently working to ensure that the rural and agricultural interests be defined in the scoping process and be included in the required Environmental Impact Statement. In particular we are calling for an assessment of the impacts of taxpayer expense for necessary infrastructure improvements, evaluation of the effects of noise, vibration, and pollution on resident’s health, agricultural crops, livestock, and natural environments, as well as land use transformation and a loss of a sense of place.
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