Monday, October 29, 2012

Coal: The Public Weighs In

Last Saturday was one of those days that I felt particularly proud to be a member of this community.
My wife and I went to Squalicum High School about 10AM to attend the GPT EIS Scoping session, held in response to public demand by the Multi-Agency Project Team- US Army Corps of Engineers, WA Dept of Ecology & Whatcom County Planning.

To our surprise and delight, we found hundreds of fellow citizens already there, standing in the light rain, in cheerful spirits and primed to voice their concerns as well as listen to others.
Some had been there since 6AM, to make sure many speaking opportunities were available to those who were not paid advocates for GPT.

At about 1PM, we left, after hearing dozens of inspired and heartfelt concerns expressed -and recorded by the MAP Team stenographer- by a crowd that was almost unanimously against one of the most controversial ideas -GPT- that this area has seen in recent years.
By that time, only one speaker had voiced support for GPT, and even that seemed pretty thin and weak.
From talking with others, the larger room -the gym- experienced the same overwhelming sentiment of concerns for the GPT proposal proceeding.
That impression could not have been lost on the visible GPT proponents, who despite spending big money on a multi-media advertising campaign, were badly outnumbered -and outspoken- at this event.

It will be interesting to see what impact this first EIS Scoping session will have on the EIS evaluation itself, since many of the concerns expressed may not have had full representation in the bureaucratic format used by the evaluating agencies.
Time will tell, but I think the cause of those with concerns was helped by this meeting.
Now, it is necessary to continue submitting our concerns and to convince others to attend the remaining 6 EIS Scoping sessions planned for other venues.

As before, there were some good articles published -both prior to and after the meeting:

This Floyd Mckay Crosscut article is particularly relevant, since it reaches farther into the zone of GPT influence than most others to date.

Three articles on Get Whatcom Planning:
Jean Melious posted these pieces about GPT recently, one before and one after the EIS Scoping meeting.

This morning, Dave Stalheim followed with this writing questioning the financial benefits claimed by GPT.

The Bellingham Herald published this account of the EIS Scoping session by John Stark.

Whatcom Watch printed 2 articles by Terry Wechsler on how to submit a scoping comment for the GPT EIS, and the history and implications of Cherry Point.

This is the concern I expressed in the Auditorium as speaker No 33 -[although not entirely within the 2 minutes allocated]:

(EIS Scoping Comment No. 21)
GPT is a 'Field of Dreams'.
If you build it, 'they' will come....
But, who are 'they'?
• Almost 3000 1.5-mile long unit trains of coal will come, plus return trips - each year
• Almost 500 huge bulk carriers, burning fuel much dirtier than coal, will come, plus return trips - each year
Without GPT, there would be no reason for this level of harmful traffic coming into Whatcom County.
This 'Field of Dreams' could easily become a 'Port of Nightmares'!

Who will be responsible for the enormous potential liability involving this traffic?
The owners of the coal and those deriving profits from carrying and handling it need to be the responsible parties!
Not the public!

To protect the public interests, the State of Washington needs to require a very substantial guaranty bond to be timely used to clean up and mitigate any spills, accidents, sinkings, collisions and other harms resulting from the care, custody and control, especially of coal for export.
The amount may need to be $100 million US dollars, to be automatically replenished to that level during the expected life of GPT and its successors and assigns, and increased as necessary in the event of a catastrophic event similar to the Exxon Valdez grounding in Alaska.

This fund -from insurance, bonds, or otherwise- needs to be established prior to any approval being granted to GPT for construction of any part of the terminal.
Additionally, legal mechanisms need to be fully in place to effectively appropriate and expend these funds by a public agency in the event they are needed for mitigation, cleanup or rescue activities.