Coal trains study: McGinn criticized for playing down findings

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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.


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