Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Coal: EIS Scoping Comment No. 20

Loss of Use of Parks & Trails

Public parks are widely enjoyed in Bellingham, and millions of dollars in additional, dedicated funding has been voluntarily supported by citizens for many years.
Visitors, including tourists also are drawn to these amenities that are recognized as world class.

Unfortunately, many of these facilities happen to be on the shoreline and are accessible only by crossing the BNSF tracks, the prime example of which is Boulevard Park, which is very frequently visited by families with small children and others who walk the Taylor Street Dock over water route from Fairhaven to Bellingham.

18 additional coal trains per day will significantly render these popular public places less usable with increased safety hazards at crossings, and considerably more noise from coal trains.
It is difficult to conceive of mitigation capable of negating all of these objectionable impacts unless a no action alternative is adopted.

Failing that, a grade-separated crossing at the north end of Boulevard Park, adequate to accommodate walkers, joggers, baby strollers, bicycles and other pedestrian traffic, needs to be constructed -prior to increasing rail traffic- at BNSF expense.
That would partially eliminate some danger and the noise of train horns at one crossing.
Similarly, the single vehicular access to Boulevard Park will need mitigation to allow deliveries, repairs, preparation for concerts and events and continuation of existing parking.

Another grade separated crossing will also be needed to allow Wharf Street traffic -both vehicular and pedestrian- to safely cross the BNSF tracks to access the waterfront south of Cornwall Street.
This would serve several purposes;
(1) mitigation of safety & noise impacts, 
(2) important access for activities related to the Waterfront Redevelopment undertaking, 
(3) access to the water for small craft, 
(4) access to the proposed future extension of the Taylor Street Dock over water walkway north from Boulevard Park to the south of Cornwall landing. 
A significant part of these costs should be borne by BNSF as well, since the City's planning process has focused on this future development area for many years.

There are several other Parks destinations that will also need careful attention, evaluation and funding for mitigation should BNSF increase rail traffic as has been proposed.
These include:
(a) Clayton Beach - a popular recreation area accessible via trail from a specially built parking lot on Chuckanut Drive.
(b) access road to Wildcat Cove boat launch area in north Larrabee State Park.
(c) Teddy Bear Cove accessible by steep trail crossing BNSF tracks.
(d) several informal track crossings between Chuckanut Point and the Post Point Wastewater Treatment Plant.
(e) Port of Bellingham's Marine Park, another popular place that has become the finish line for the annual Ski to Sea race. 
== don't forget the Ferry Terminal, southern terminus of the Alaska State Ferry ===
(f) the public boat launch at the mouth of Padden Creek.
(g) proposed trail route through the waterfront redevelopment area accessed by Central Avenue from Roeder Avenue. [must cross BNSF tracks to reach Roeder]
(h) access to Bellwether Way business complex and Squalicum Marina & yacht basin via "C" Street or "F" Street to Roeder crosses BNSF tracks.

The MAP Team needs to take into account the well established long-term use of these shoreline access points and their importance to Bellingham.

Also, since the Port of Bellingham's purchase of the former G-P industrial site, both Port & City have invested or committed millions in public funding toward waterfront cleanup, rezoning for mixed use and a likely decades-long redevelopment to create suitable, desirable sites for business, jobs, residences and recreation for future citizens on its waterfront.

In sum, the waterfront is intended to become -again- Bellingham's front door and everyone's neighborhood.
When appraising the certain harm that increased BNSF coal trains bring to these goals, please remember they reflect the wishes of thousands of citizens over many years, and need to be fully respected as the highest priority for achieving the net public good.
Note: The title declares this to be Comment No 20, but prior to posting this I submitted 2 additional comments, using the online form at this URL.
No. 21 was about who has responsibility for liability at each stage of the coal shipping process, as I stated at the Scoping Meeting at Squalicum HS last Saturday.
No. 22 was about train noise.
Stay tuned.....