Timely Updates

Three major victories in the past two weeks should give heart to those who wonder whether we won’t be overwhelmed by corporate coal interests.

First there is the decision by Whatcom County Planning and Development Services that Gateway Pacific applicant, SSA Marine must reapply for the Shorelines permit, that their initial application filed in 1997 did not address the possibility of their project being a coal port.

The second major achievement in this struggle the Washington State Department of Ecology agreeing to Whatcom County’s request that the state co lead the adjudication of the Environmental Impact Statement concerning GPT.

The third major decision concerns a parallel interest in the Tongue River Valley in Montana, where a BNSF rail project could transform a bucolic back country area into an industrial corridor. A 3 judge Panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the federal Surface Transportation Board had to reconsider and properly consider environmental impacts of running a coal train through the Tongue River Valley. The court was saying that in this case, mitigation of problems was putting the cart before the horse. The Panel’s decision lends strength to the safeguardthesouthfork concern that impacts on the Farm Land Route must be assessed in the EIS prior to permitting of GPT.

Your SGSF board is working hard on behalf of you, our readers and supporters. We are involved in the following initiatives:

  • Meeting with Utilities and Transportation Commission Officials to discuss rail impacts;
  • Coordinating a meeting with Senator Murray’s office where we expect to discuss rail and geopolitical issues which bear upon the siting of the port;
  • Communicating with the United States Coast Guard to verify the extent to which the growth of shipping in the Salish Sea from the U.S and Canada might effect the permitting of GPT;
  • Utilizing a data bank we acquired from the Whatcom County Assessor that provides us with information pertinent to land ownership along the Farm Land Route;
  • Drafting and Distributing a letter and survey for residents along the Farmland Route;
  • Greeting Rick Larsen at the Deming Library, who will be commemorating the advancement of technological services for the library. Join us in politely congratulating him for taking the needs of county residents seriously.

If you are pleased with the work that we are doing on your behalf write to us and offer your suggestions. Your support is always appreciated.

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Why the South Fork?

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