Vancouver wants voice in coal plan

City states worries, seeks environmental review participation

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Toni Montgomery lives in Steamboat Landing along the Columbia River in Vancouver, and despite the tony location, she fears she may be on the wrong side of the tracks.

The wrong side, that is, if proposed coal export terminals bring as many as 16 trains stretching up to 1.5 miles long through her neighborhood every day, blocking access for residents and any emergency responders who may need in. Already, she says that six coal trains go by her home daily, coating her house in dust and killing off her landscaping.

photoProtesters opposing shipments of coal by train attend a workshop session Monday at Vancouver City Hall. Area activists have been calling for the city council to take action.

(/The Columbian)

Buy this photo

On Monday, she joined several dozens of concerned residents at Vancouver City Hall as staff members walked the city council through a host of potential problems the six proposed coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest could cause locally. Among them: coal dust, increased diesel pollution, degraded air quality, train horn noise, fire danger and overall visual impacts.

“The impacts could fall back on the city, but (coal) isn’t going to give us any income,” Montgomery, the Steamboat Landing resident, said.

Related story

Clark County commissioners' letter also seeks inclusion in environmental review for coal export terminal proposal.

To read more

For background information on the clash over coal, click here to read a recent in-depth package presented by The Columbian.

The terminals are being proposed in the Pacific Northwest — from Coos Bay, Ore. to Bellingham — as a way to export coal from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming to China, where demand, until recently, has been high. The closest proposed terminal is the Millennium Bulk Terminal in Longview, which city staff told the council Monday could bring up to 16 1.5-mile-long trains through town daily. That’s 44 million tons carried by more than 5,000 trains a year.

After debate over commerce versus quality of life, the city council agreed to craft a resolution that states all of the city’s concerns and also asks to be a party to the environmental review process, set to be done by the state of Washington, and in the case of the Longview terminal, Cowlitz County. The city joins a host of local governments to have passed resolutions, including Camas, Washougal, Longview, Stevenson, Hood River and Seattle. The Clark County Board of Commissioners also sent a letter to the state on Monday asking to be a party to environmental review plans.

Vancouver’s elected officials also sided with Gov. Chris Gregoire and Sen. Patty Murray’s offices in asking for separate environmental reviews of each proposed export terminal, rather than an all-encompassing programmatic review for all six projects, as has been asked for by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, the city of Portland, and Multnomah County.

Montgomery expressed her disappointment in Vancouver’s decision after Monday’s workshop.

“The programmatic (environmental impact statement) give a total scope for the entire state,” she said. “Vancouver is coming forward and saying ‘I want to know just about us.’ ”

But city staff said they felt Vancouver’s ability to have its problems mitigated would be strengthened by individual environmental impact statements. Under the environmental review process, Vancouver would be a party to the findings, and be given notification and a chance to comment. The city has no direct authority over the process, but can ask for mitigation.

The difference between the two boil down to geography and scope, Vancouver Community and Economic Development Director Chad Eiken said.

“If we have three or four local crossings (impacted), our concern is that with a programmatic approach is those somehow get lost in the larger review,” Eiken said.

The majority of the city council said that while they didn’t feel comfortable trying to regulate what commodities are carried through town, they do want to make sure that it is transported safely and with a minimum of adverse effects to residents and business.

Councilor Jack Burkman pointed out that the Port of Vancouver has spent much to expand its rail capacity, and it wouldn’t be fair for nonlocal commerce such as coal trains to gobble it up.

“We don’t get anything out of coal trains going by,” Burkman said. “We want rail capacity for the benefit of those in our community, not consumed by those going by.”

The Longview terminal could bring as many as 135 direct and 165 indirect jobs there, resulting in $235 million in state and local tax revenue over 30 years, staff told the council.

Councilor Jeanne Harris, however, said she has a problem with trying to control what a private business does on private tracks. Market forces will work the situation out, she said.

“There’s hazmat (hazardous materials) that goes through every community all the time,” Harris said. “They manage that. If we start saying no to certain products, that is a slippery slope.”

The resolution will be presented to the city council for deliberation and a vote on July 16 during its 7 p.m. meeting at City Hall, 415 W. Sixth St.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542; http://www.twitter.com/col_cityhall; andrea.damewood@columbian.com.