Crowd of 650 on hand for hearing on coal project

Proposed coal terminal in Bellingham subject of hearing at Clark College

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

Published:

Updated: December 12, 2012, 6:03 PM

 

Hearings on coal export terminal proposal

photoBNSF employee Tim Falsetto, right, joins pro-coal activists Wednesday in advance of a public hearing at Clark College on a proposed coal export facility near Bellingham.

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photoAnti-coal activist Rick Schmitt, 51, of Vancouver protests Wednesday afternoon in advance of a public hearing at Clark College on a proposed coal export facility near Bellingham.

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photoA coal train heads north through the old Georgia-Pacific site March 1, 2011, in Bellingham.

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photoAnti-coal activists take part in a event before a hearing on a proposed coal export facility in Bellingham.

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About 650 people packed Gaiser Hall and Foster Auditorium tonight for a public hearing on a proposal to build an coal export terminal in Bellingham.

Opponents appear to outnumber supporters at the hearing. Activists on both sides had exchanged verbal jabs in advance of the hearing. Two advocacy groups, the pro-coal Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports and the anti-coal Sierra Club, were scheduled to hold their own media events before the hearing.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt took part in the anti coal protest.

Pro-coal activists showed up wearing green, while anti-coal activists were dressed in red. One protester showed up dressed up as a lump of coal.

Look for photos, video and complete coverage later tonight at www.columbian.com.

The three-hour meeting will focus on the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point, one of five coal export facilities now proposed in Washington and Oregon. Among other commodities, the facility would handle coal that's shipped through the Northwest, mostly by rail, on its way to Asian markets. One of the key rail routes to that location passes through Vancouver.

Earlier public hearings on the Gateway Pacific project have drawn huge crowds. Capacity at today's Vancouver meeting is 800 in the two halls, according to the Washington State Department of Ecology, one of three lead agencies now gathering public comment.

Attendees will give verbal comment at two concurrent hearings at the college. Exactly who gets the 150 available speaking slots will be determined by random drawings, according to the ecology department.

Not everyone at the meeting will be in the same place, said Bob Williamson, vice president of administrative services at Clark College. The agencies hosting the hearing reserved space at Gaiser Hall, the Penguin Union Building and the nearby Foster Hall auditorium, he said. The advertised location of the hearing is Gaiser Hall, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way.