Coal hearing drew a crowd of 850

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A final count determined Wednesday's public hearing in Vancouver on a proposed coal export facility drew about 850 people, a state Department of Ecology spokesman said Friday.

The crowd filled two venues at Clark College, where people turned out to weigh in on the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point near Bellingham. Opponents of the facility and coal exports far outnumbered those who supported them.

Vancouver's crowd wasn't the largest of seven public hearings on the project — far from it. On Thursday, about 2,400 packed the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle, said Ecology spokesman Larry Altose. And three previous hearings — in Bellingham, Ferndale and Mount Vernon -- all drew 1,000 or more, according to the ecology department.

"Interest began high, and continued to mount," Altose said.

Seattle hosted the final public hearing, but people may still submit formal comments until Jan. 21. The ecology department, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Whatcom County are gathering input as they prepare an environmental impact statement on the Gateway Pacific project.

More information is at http://eisgatewaypacificwa.gov.