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Northwest coal-port

A proposed coal export station is slated for Bellingham, Wash. Proponents say it will bring jobs. Opponents say the station will damage the environment and hurt traffic.

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coalBELLINGHAM — Voters in Whatcom County appeared to issue an edict on coal trains in Tuesday’s election, voting in all four county-council candidates who opposed the proposal to build a coal export facility near Bellingham.

All four anti-coal terminal council members were leading their opponents as votes came in Tuesday night, including two challengers who looked to topple two pro-coal terminal incumbents. T

he council is currently favorable to the facility that could bring jobs to the area. But, a shift toward more progressive council members would swing the vote.  Progressive-leaning council members include incumbent Ken Mann and Carl Weimer, and challengers Rud Browne and Barry Buchanan. All opposed a proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point.

Incumbents Ben Elenbaas and Michelle Luke, both considered conservative leaning, were trailing by nearly double digits Tuesday night.

Political Action Committees on both sides of the coal-terminal debate donated heavily to the county council races.

More than 41,000 people voted in the county election; big numbers for an off-year election.

SEATTLE — State Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, appeared to be headed for victory in Seattle’s mayoral race Tuesday night, taking a large lead — 56-43% — over Mayor Mike McGinn with about 40 percent of the votes reported.

‘We believe we won, yes,” Murray told a reporter late Tuesday night.

Indeed, The Seattle Times front-page headline Wednesday morning blared in big, bold type, “It’s Mayor Murray”

murrayThe first day’s ballot count by King County Elections had 50,938 votes for Murray and 39,124 votes for McGinn, who was seeking his second term in office.

“The votes are in,” McGinn told his supporters in what sounded at points almost like a concession speech.  But as supporters yelled no, McGinn added, “But there’s more votes. We’re not done.”

McGinn finished up his remarks by saying the last four years had made him “the happiest in the world.”

McGinn, while the incumbent, found himself in the position of underdog in this race. It could be because he’s been dogged by criticism that he’s a somewhat thorny mayor — willing to go to the mat for issues he vehemently supports — and he’s faced criticism concerning downtown safety and the police department’s use of excessive force that brought the Department of Justice to town to try to rectify the situation.

Murray, on the other hand, could be viewed as an establishment wonk who has 18 years of experience as a state lawmaker under his belt but no experience managing a large, metropolitan city, although he can lay claim to penning Referendum 74 which legalized same-sex marriage in the state. He says he will be more collaborative than McGinn, but a look at a lot of his proposed agenda items don’t differ all that much from McGinn’s — each candidate says they favor more public transit and universal kindergarten, for example, so this one is really up to the voter’s to decide who they are more comfortable with taking over the reins of the city.

Initiative 522: Losing 53-47% with 811,356 votes counted.

In what could be the most expensive political campaign in the state’s history — it’s been reported that more than $30 million has been spent and most of it came from out-of-state donors — this hotly contentious issue was shot down in California’s general election last year, and if it did pass here, Washington would lay claim to being the first state in the country to require labeling on genetically modified foods. Pundits believe I-522 will get a supportive nod on the western side of the state, but the rest of Washington, including its agricultural heartland, could easily step up and swing this to a no vote.

‘Good Jobs Initiative’:  Winning 54-46% with 3,283 votes counted in city of SeaTac. Could the small burg of SeaTac set a national precedent? It could if the initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for airport and hotel workers passes. The measure, prompted by frustration over a lack of a federal wage increase initiative, isn’t just on Washington state’s ballot as New Jersey, Alaska, South Dakota and Idaho either have it on the ballot or are working to gather signatures. It’s also a main platform issue for socialist city council candidate Kshama Sawant — she’s considered an outsider in the race, but a number of low-earning workers should rally behind her calls for a higher minimum wage, public transit expansion, affordable housing and other socially driven agenda items.

For a list of the candidates and issues on the ballot, go the King County website. And hang on — the first ballot results will be released shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday. After that you can see King County results here, county results here and statewide results here.

SEATTLE — A new study details the economic impacts of running coal trains through Seattle.  Mayor Mike McGinn has long opposed the plan and has vowed to do all he can to stop them.

coalTuesday, he responded to critics who argue he delayed publicizing the report because he didn’t like the findings.

“It was released to you very shortly after we received the final report,” McGinn said to reporters.

The mayor commissioned the study in December.  He said during a high-profile news conference that he wanted to quantify what effect running trains would have on the local economy, including the traffic congestion they would create.

Instead of holding another news conference, the mayor had the report quietly posted Friday on the mayor’s website, with a written statement claiming it defended his position.

“Basically Mayor McGinn was hoping that this report would confirm what he’s been saying, which is that we would have all these horrific impacts in Seattle. And the report says anything but that,” said Lauri Hennessey, spokeswoman for the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports, a coalition of more than 40 organizations across Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana that it says represents 39,000 businesses and nearly 220,000 employees.

Hennessey argues the study proves that coal exports will be good for Seattle’s economy, including more jobs.

“This report vindicates what we’ve been saying over the last year,” Hennessey said.

Tuesday, the mayor denied that he sat on the study or that he’s unhappy with the results.  Any delay, he argued, had to do with the outside consultant making revisions to a draft that was produced in early July.

“We were trying to get it out as quickly as we could after it was finalized,” McGinn said.  “If you look at the report, what it outlines are very significant economic impacts to Seattle.”

The report does show big costs to the city if a planned coal terminal is built in Bellingham and up to 18 trains a day travel through the city on their way to that destination, including:

  • Increased congestion would cost drivers and their employers up to $455,000 year.
  • Property values near the rail lines would take a hit by anywhere from $270 million to $475 million dollars.
  • Waterfront tourism would suffer because of the increased noise and other train disturbances.

“What we’ve identified are congestion impacts, reductions in property values, high infrastructure costs to get around the train tracks,” said McGinn.  “That’s even before we get to the health, pollution, you know, damages to our waterways as well as global warming.”

Supporters say the report helps their case by pointing out that the new terminal and trains would generate $28 million in work during construction and about $2.5 million in ongoing jobs when it’s up and running.

“Don’t just look at it as for city of Seattle,” said Hennessey.  “Look at it as, do you believe in trade for this region, and this is a way to get there.”

The mayor vows to continue his fight to prevent coal from coming through the city and going to its final destination in Asia.

“There’s not upside to these coal trains, except for those who would profit from polluting the planet,” McGinn said.

Hennessey argued it’s unrealistic to prevent this kind of export.

“A lot of people say they should just stop using coal,” she said.  “Well, that’s not realistic.  They can’t start using wind power tomorrow.”

The study cost the city $25,000.



Of six coal export terminals originally proposed in the Pacific Northwest, projects at Grays Harbor and St. Helens have been withdrawn, and a project at Coos Bay is shelved. Trains would originate in the Powder River Basin. (Sierra Club/Shew Design)

By Kim Murphy

Los Angeles Times

SEATTLE — The battle over plans for a series of massive coal export terminals across the Pacific Northwest took a new turn Wednesday when the energy company Kinder Morgan announced it was dropping its plan to build a $200-million facility on the Columbia River in northern Oregon.

Company officials said the site at the Port Westward industrial park near Clatskanie could not be configured optimally to handle export of up to 30 million tons of coal a year, most presumably destined for markets in Asia.

That means three of the original six proposed coal export terminals that have locked Oregon and Washington in controversy are now either shelved or off the table. Developers still are exploring or seeking permits for terminals in Boardman, Ore., Longview, Wash., and at Cherry Point near Bellingham, Wash.

Thousands of residents have signed petitions and turned out for hearings to block the plans, which would involve shipping coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana on long trains to the coast.

Opponents fear the toxic effects of coal dust blowing off the trains. They have also raised concerns about long traffic tie-ups in towns along the Columbia River Gorge and up and down the Pacific Coast as trains, many as long as a mile, rumble through towns.

Conservation organizations, which have turned the coal export debate into the region’s highest-profile environmental battleground, have argued that it is useless to reduce coal burning in the U.S. to slow climate change while providing fuel to coal-fired power plants in Asia.

A smaller number of trade unions and business development groups have argued in favor of the export terminals, saying they would allow the U.S. to step up its exports to China and boost jobs along the Northwest coast.

Kinder Morgan’s Port Westward project would have employed about 80 full-time staffers in addition to the 150 jobs generated during its construction.

Company spokesman Allen Fore said an 18-month-long review of the logistics of the site concluded that it would not accommodate the project that is envisioned.

“We concluded our analysis and determined that we could not find a location on that particular footprint that would be compatible with the facility that we needed to construct,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

He said the company would continue to look for an acceptable site.

“We’re a customer-driven company, and when our customers have an interest, as they currently have in a facility on the West Coast, we’re going to explore opportunities for that,” he said.

Opponents said the announcement at Wednesday’s meeting of the Port of St. Helens board of commissioners, which administers the Port Westward site, came just two days after the public voiced overwhelming opposition to the plan at a meeting of the Columbia County Planning Commission.

“If that site didn’t meet their physical constraints, they would have known that … years ago when they proposed this,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, director of the group Columbia Riverkeeper, which has helped mobilize residents against planned export terminals at Port Westward and on the river at Boardman.

“What’s new here is the overwhelming public opposition, especially locally, to this project,” he said.

Darrel Whipple, a resident of Rainier, Ore., and an organizer with the group Clean Columbia County, said more than 100 opponents filled the hearing room and spilled out into the lobby at Monday’s Planning Commission meeting, while only a handful spoke in support.

He said the county would be bisected by coal trains running along a single rail line at the rate of 12 a day — each of them longer than the town of Rainier.

“All of us locally involved in this love the Columbia River and our environment here,” he said. “We have concerns about coal dust polluting the river, coal dust polluting the land. We have children and asthma patients who are at risk.”


Local News

Protesters stand together in opposition of coal trains

photoSEATTLE — Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Washington State Convention Center Thursday to make sure their voices were heard in opposition of coal trains.

Many were holding “No Coal in Seattle” signs. And all present were concerned about the impact transporting coal could have on the environment if a major coal terminal is built near Bellingham.

“There’s nothing right about this,” said protester John Riggs.

If a coal terminal was built in Bellingham, trains loaded with coal would travel through Seattle and up the coast to Bellingham. The coal would then be transported overseas to places such as China.

Proponents of the plan said a coal terminal could bring much needed jobs to Bellingham and the Puget Sound.  The trains moving 54 million tons of coal a year along the West Coast will be a huge economic boost to the northwest, supporters said, and bring more than a thousand jobs.

Bob Waters of SSA Marine, a marine terminal transport company, said the coal trains could also boost tax revenues.

“It generates tax revenue,” Waters said. “So it’s $92 million worth of tax revenues during two years of construction and about $11 million of tax revenue on an ongoing basis.”

But opponents argue that the trains are bad for the local environment and could be bad for businesses in the area. Kyle Griffith owns the Seattle Great Wheel on the waterfront. He said more trains mean more delays downtown, creating a kind-of wall in Seattle, blocking tourists and locals from getting to the waterfront.

“We are very concerned that would happen and people would turn around and not come back,” said Griffith.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn also remains skeptical. He wants his own study to determine the economic hit Seattle may take if the coal trains are allowed to run.

“The gates will be down an additional one to three hours a day,” McGinn said. “We’re talking about eighteen, one mile long coal trains moving through relatively slowly, and those are significant economic impacts.”

An Environmental Impact Statement will now be drafted. And even if the controversial plan is approved, the new terminal wouldn’t be up and running for five more years.

coalSEATTLE — Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is making a big push to stop coal trains from running through waterfront property in Seattle.

McGinn will be on hand Thursday night at a public hearing to vote on a big new coal terminal in Bellingham. The terminal would mean up to 18 new trains a day, each more than a mile long. He argues the trains would further congest traffic around the Port of Seattle and the waterfront.

“I think you are seeing the types of concerns that we’re raising here are being raised in communities up and down Oregon and Washington and Vancouver B.C.,” McGinn said.

On Wednesday, McGinn announced plans for a new $25,000 study to determine the economic hit the city could hit, including downtown businesses, if the coal trains were allowed to run. On hand to support the Mayor was the family that owns the new Ferris wheel on Pier 57. Kyle Griffith, the owner of the wheel, said noisy, dirty trains running through downtown could put a damper on the new $20 million waterfront attraction.

“We’re very concerned about any new train routes that would cut off access for our customers and our visitors and our friends and neighbors to come down here,” Griffith said.

Instead, he prefers a plan to allow 24-story residential towers on the edge of South Lake Union.