County letter states coal worries

Environmental review should include us, it says

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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The Clark County Board of Commissioners sent a letter on June 21 to the state Department of Ecology and to Cowlitz County outlining its worries about a proposed coal export terminal in Longview, saying they “cannot ignore the potentially significant, adverse impacts on our citizens.”

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Coal letter from Clark County

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On Monday, the Vancouver City Council agreed to draft a resolution also expressing concerns about the impacts coal trains traveling from Wyoming to a proposed export terminal in Longview may have. Numerous other regional cities have also drafted resolutions or sent letters of concern about the six proposed coal export terminals intended to serve as a conduit for coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to China. In between the basin and the terminals, however, are hundreds of miles of train tracks, many of which run through Clark County. As many as 5,840 additional trains could flow through the county annually as a result, the letter said.

While the commissioners wrote that they support job creation and a healthy economy, they requested that any environmental impact review — which is being co-led by the state Department of Ecology and Cowlitz County — “carefully consider the regional impacts of this proposal, including direct, indirect and cumulative effects in Clark County.”

“We have concerns about how added rail traffic could harm the quality of life in Clark County, especially for those living and owning businesses near the rail lines,” the letter read. “Impacts could include: emergency response delays; increased traffic congestion; air and noise pollution due to idling trains; air pollution created by coal dust; blocked pedestrian and bicycle access to the waterfront; destabilizing steep slopes adjacent to the tracks; and changes to established quiet zones.”

Extra planning will be needed to accommodate up to 16 trains, each a mile long, per day, the letter said. “As part of the analysis, the county thinks full consideration of alternatives and mitigation measures is in order,” the commissioners wrote.

Commissioner Steve Stuart said late Monday that the letter will stand on its own, and that the commissioners are not planning on passing a resolution. Without the letter, the county would not be included in the environmental review, he said, so asking to be included in the scope of the process is “a big deal” because “ultimately, it does make a difference to ask,” Stuart said. (The Department of Ecology and Cowlitz County could still decline to include Clark County in the environmental review, despite local governments asking to be a part of it).

“We’re asking to be included within the scoping to be able to determine the actual impacts of increased coal train traffic,” Stuart said. “The (national and state environmental policy act) process should provide us real info on the potential impacts to our community.”