Friday, December 14, 2012

Coal: Bellingham's GPT Scoping Comments

Here is the text of a letter the City of Bellingham intends to submit as its latest comprehensive GPT EIS Scoping Comments:

December 12, 2012

GPT/Custer Spur EIS
1100 112th Avenue NE Suite 400
Bellevue, WA 98004

RE: Scoping Comments for the Gateway Pacific Terminal Environmental Impact Statement

Dear Sir or Madam:

These scoping comments are submitted to you on behalf of the Mayor of the City of Bellingham and the Bellingham City Council.  The following comments are meant to address both on and off-site potential impacts of the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) project to the City of Bellingham and its Urban Growth Areas and are organized according to the negative impacts the project may have on the City's Legacies and Strategic Commitments, as further discussed below and attached for your reference.

On July 23, 2012 the Bellingham City Council adopted Resolution 2012-22, which is attached to this letter. The Resolution highlighted the potential that additional off-site infrastructure within the City may be necessary for the GPT project to function as proposed at full-build out in 2026, which may adversely impact the City's ability to achieve its Legacies and Strategic Commitments.

Therefore, the City is providing the following specific scoping comments for consideration and inclusion in the Final Scoping Document in order to inform the various alternatives to be studied in the EIS.
1.   Please analyze the cumulative impacts of all currently proposed coal export facilities and/or dry bulk commodity terminals within Washington and Oregon in a Cumulative Impact Analysis pursuant to the National Environmental Protection Act. Specifically, please analyze the cumulative impact to existing freight and passenger train traffic capacity in Washington State as well as the cumulative impacts to natural and cultural resources resulting from the increase in freight train trips within Washington State and vessel traffic within Puget Sound, Georgia Straight and the Columbia River.  We acknowledge that the BP Refinery located within the Cherry Point Industrial Area has applied for permits to develop new railroad (loop) infrastructure on their own property. The proposed improvements are intended to accommodate a planned for increase in trains carrying crude oil from the Midwest to their facilities at Cherry Point. BP has forecasted that they expect one additional train every two days to travel on the BNSF line traveling through Bellingham to the Custer Spur and then to the refinery itself. Please include this additional train traffic in the Cumulative Impact Analysis. 
2.   Please analyze the increase in impacts to the health and welfare of the citizens of Bellingham including impacts from diesel emissions from trains and ships, coal dust, noise and the potential for increased rail/car and rail/pedestrian accidents through a comprehensive independent third party Health Impact Assessment. 
3.   Please analyze the impacts to existing freight train and passenger train service, including impacts to shared capacity by the addition of up to 18 additional bulk-commodity train trips per day on Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad infrastructure (Bellingham Subdivision Mainline), between Mount Vernon, Washington and the GPT. 
4.   Please analyze the impacts to the elements of the environment, as specified in WAC 197-11-444, which would result from the construction / development of a new railroad siding partially or wholly within the City in order to facilitate / accommodate the addition of up to 18 additional bulk-commodity train trips per day on the Bellingham Subdivision Mainline (BSM) between Mount Vernon and the GPT. 
The following comments relate to the City's potentially affected resources and are categorized in relation to the City's Legacies and Strategic Commitments. The City expects these resources to be adversely impacted by the increase of up to 18 additional freight train trips traveling through the City of Bellingham every day at the time of full build out of the GPT. We request that the "increase" in impacts resulting from this action be analyzed through the EIS process for each element list below.
  1. Please analyze the increase in impacts within an EIS to the following elements, related to the City's "Healthy Environment Legacy," which commits the City to protect the health of Bellingham Bay and its ecological functions, as well as reduce contributions to climate change:
    • Marine species, vegetation and the water quality of Bellingham Bay and its pocket estuaries as a result of increased coal dust from open container cars and increased diesel particulates from locomotives;
    • Marine species, aquatic vegetation and water quality due to an increase in vessel traffic and vessel anchorage;
    • Air quality of park and recreation users related to increased dust and increased particulates from open container cars and locomotives due  to idling of those locomotives to the proximity of BSM to heavily used City park and trail amenities;  
    • Upland wildlife habitat, connectivity and accessibility to park lands and greenway habitat corridors as a result of an increase in the amount, frequency and length of commodity trains;
    • Air quality, the marine environment and upland vegetation, resulting from the various methods of handling, moving and storing coal and other similar commodities from the moment it arrives at the terminal via train to its deposition into the cargo vessel;
    • Marine near-shore environment from an increase in noise and vibration due to additional, longer and more frequent freight train trips along the BSM; 
    • Noise from increased train traffic on park users, riverine and estuarine fish and wildlife and related habitat; and
    • Potentially unstable slopes located on or adjacent to public and private lands especially those within the Edgemoor, South Hill, Birchwood and Columbia Neighborhoods as a result of additional, longer and more frequent freight train trips along the BSM; 
  1. Please analyze the increase in impacts within an EIS to the following elements related to the City's Legacy of "Vibrant and Sustainable Economy," which commits the City to support and promote a thriving local economy across all sectors, public and private investment as well as preservation of farmland and agricultural economy;
  • Existing and planned land use and economic development potential within the City's Central Business District, the Waterfront District, Old Town and Fairhaven, all of which have development potential west of the BSM as a result of additional, longer and more frequent freight train trips;  
  • Property values and assessments and the impacts to services resulting from a potential decrease in property tax revenue; 
  • Job retention and creation within the City of Bellingham;
  • Bellingham's economy from increased train traffic related to tourism use of public park property within proximity of the rail line;
  • Tribal nations, local and regional fishing industries resulting from the increase in vessel traffic and marine infrastructure within the Strait of Georgia and the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve. 
  1. Please analyze the increase in impacts within an EIS to the following elements related to the City's Legacy of "Sense of Place," which commits the City to support and protect neighborhoods, historic and cultural resources, as well as natural settings and access to open space: 
  • Resulting from additional freight train trips on the BSM on recreation resources and social benefits of the Bellingham parks and open space system;
  • Impacts of additional, longer and more frequent freight train trips along the BSM, as well as related infrastructure, including fencing, signals, siding, tracking, to the quality of public parks, open space and trails, and to scenic water views;
  • Impacts of potential expansion of tracking or sidings associated with the increased rail traffic on public park lands and access to those lands, including impacts due to acquisition and/or eminent domain of properties that have a potential for future public access;  
  • Impacts of trains idling to adjacent park land, including public access, emergencies and operational access, noise, dust;
  1. Please analyze the increase in impacts within an EIS on to the following elements  related to the City's Legacy of "Safe and Prepared Community," which commits the City to preventing and responding to emergencies and crime, as well as increasing community readiness and resilience:
  • Paramedic response times and services of City of Bellingham's Fire and Police Departments as well as Whatcom Medic One and Fire District 7;
  • Emergency response times for Medic One and Fire District 7 paramedics within and beyond the northern portions of the City;
  • Safety of the general public resulting from  fire in a coal car, including idling locomotives and train derailments or collisions;
  • Impacts resulting from accelerated wear and tear on the rails themselves, ties, supporting ballast, bridges, crossings and tunnels.
  • Public access issues, including delays in emergency response time and operational access, caused by increased rail traffic, to existing and future park lands along the rail right of way;
  • Existing rights of way, both opened and unopened, that provide access to public lands and shorelines;
  • Public and private property resulting from any potential spill on land or water during transport, storage or handling, including any spill due to a ship collision. 
  1. Please analyze the increase in impacts within an EIS on the following elements related to the City's Legacy "Mobility and Connectivity Options," which commits the City to providing safe and well connected mobility options for all users as well as increase infrastructure for non-vehicular modes of transportation:
  • The safety of park users as a direct result of increased rail traffic.  Many existing legal access points to parks and trails involve at-grade rail crossings;
  • Mobility and connectivity between on-street and off street non-motorized pedestrian and bicycle systems;
  • Existing and proposed trail systems, including the Coast Millennium Trail, Bay to Baker Trail, Nooksack Loop Trail, all of which are identified in the City's Comprehensive Plan as well as proposed trail systems and linkages within and along the shoreline in the Waterfront District;
  • Crossing safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit buses, automobiles, and freight delivery vehicles;  
  • Traffic congestion backing up into other intersections, blocking access to side streets, alleys, and driveways;
  • Access to and from Amtrak passenger trains, the Alaska Ferry Terminal, other marine transportation tenants stationed at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, the Community Boating Center and the Port of Bellingham's Fairhaven boat launch facilities and the effect on Bellingham's tourism income.
  • The following at-grade street crossings all within the City limits:
  • Harris Avenue (Fairhaven)
  • 6th Street north of Harris Avenue (Fairhaven)
  • Bayview Drive (Boulevard Park) 
  • South Bay Trail @ Boulevard Park
  • Pine and Wharf Street (Waterfront District)
  • Cornwall Avenue (Waterfront District)
  • West Laurel Street (Waterfront District)
  • Central Avenue (Old Town)
  • “C” Street (Old Town)
  • "F" Street (Old Town)
  1. Please analyze the following items related to the City's Legacy "Quality, Responsive City Services," which commits the City to delivering efficient, effective and accountable services, and transparent processes to involve stakeholders in decisions:
  • Associated costs of transportation improvements necessary to mitigate safety, congestion, and access issues resulting from an increase in freight train trips as part of the GPT proposal.
It is important to note that the City concurs with the October 22, 2012 letter from Buri, Funston and Mumford Attorneys at Law, which asserts that the GPT proposal is a "major development" as defined in Whatcom County Code (WCC) 20.88.010 and therefore is required to satisfy the "major development criteria," as specified in WCC 20.88.130.

As the project qualifies as a major project, the applicant is responsible for demonstrating   compliance with the criteria listed in WCC 20.88.130, including a showing that the project will not impose uncompensated requirements for public expenditures for additional utilities, facilities and services, will not impose uncompensated costs on other property owned and will be appropriately responsive to any EIS prepared for the project. 

It is vital that any off-site infrastructure that is necessary for the project be considered as part of the project proposal itself, as required by WCC 20.88.130(6).  If the Washington State Department of Ecology, the Army Corps of Engineers and Whatcom County (the "Co-Leads) does not require that the off-site infrastructure be considered as part of the project, then that infrastructure should be included as a condition precedent to the establishment of the major development, as required by WCC 20.88.140 or, considered as a reasonable alternative to the proposal and be analyzed pursuant to both SEPA and NEPA.  

The City looks forward to the inclusion of the study of these potential impacts as part of the GPT project EIS.

Kelli Linville Terry Bornemann
Mayor City Council President

Attachments: Legacies & Strategic Commitments
                    Resolution 2012-22

[Note: these two attachments are pdf documents which I could not figure out how to display here. 
They will be available on the City's website]
Recent published articles on Coal Export:

Coal train impacts feared along the Sound |

Seattle turns out to oppose proposed coal port |

More than 2,000 attend coal terminal hearing in Seattle | Cargo Terminal | The Bellingham Herald

EarthFix · Oregon Public Broadcasting

Coal-export hearing packed, mostly by opponents | Local News | The Seattle Times

Seattle PR firms are doing “coal’s dirty work”: study | Strange Bedfellows — Politics News -

Get Whatcom Planning

SEATTLE: Protests ahead of Wash. coal terminal hearing | Northwest News | The Bellingham Herald

Hearing on Gateway Pacific coal project draws hundreds in Vancouver | Cargo Terminal | The Bellingham Herald

Look Who’s Taking Coal Money | Sightline Daily

Coal ports are bad idea for both Washington and China |

EarthFix · Where Coal Divides, Community Remains · KUOW

Waterkeepers Join Thousands at Final Public Hearing on Proposed Coal Export Terminals – EcoWatch: Uniting the Voice of the Grassroots Environmental Movement

Debate over coal exports leaves out some communities along route, critics charge | Cargo Terminal | The Bellingham Herald

Ship crashes into dock at Westshore Terminals, spilling coal into water (with video)

Video: Sightline on Coal Exports | Sightline Daily

City calls on Port Metro Vancouver to delay coal export expansion | The Vancouver Observer

Planned Oregon coal export terminal would exceed pollution standards, Sierra Club charges |

Coal supporters make their push |

Coal backers hire temp workers to stand in line - - Dec. 4, 2012