Vancouver wants role in talking about coal

City has no authority over export terminals but asks to have input

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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The Vancouver City Council passed a resolution of concern Monday about proposed coal export terminal projects targeting the Pacific Northwest, asking for a cumulative look at their impacts, and requesting to be a part of any environmental impact reviews.

As many as six coal export terminals are being planned for sites from Bellingham to Coos Bay, Ore. The terminals would accept coal brought by train and barge from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, and ship the product to east Asia.

Both BNSF Railway and Union Pacific trains run through Vancouver, which could see at least 20 additional mile-and-a-half-long trains a day should export terminals go online. Barge traffic would also increase on the Columbia River.

The city's four-page resolution asks the state of Washington for three major outcomes:

• That Vancouver become a party of record to any environmental studies for coal export terminals in Oregon and Washington.

• That there be a cumulative, area-wide analysis of the impacts of those terminals.

• That at least one public hearing on each environmental impact statement be held in Clark County.

Vancouver, like other local governments, has little say in the approval process for the coal terminals. But the city has joined a host of Pacific Northwest neighborhoods, cities and counties asking for a role in the environmental review of them.

The city council largely side-stepped the possibility of making any statements for or against coal, but did say that questions about the terminal's impacts on Vancouver need to be answered.

"We don't operate the rail … so it's not prudent for us to tell them how they should operate their business," Mayor Tim Leavitt said in praise of the city's resolution. "But it is prudent to ask them to work with us to help mitigate some of those concerns."

The closest proposed terminal would be in Longview, where the Millennium Project is beginning its permitting process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Cowlitz County.

Opponents of the export terminals have lobbied the council for such a resolution for months. They cited potential issues with traffic, lack of emergency access, falling property values, pollution, cancer risks, coal dust and Vancouver's waterfront development.

The coal traffic won't provide jobs or taxes to the city, but will leave coal dust, traffic and other impacts in its wake, opponents said.

One man told the council that makes Vancouver an "unpaid middleman for coal export trafficking." Others also pointed out that up to 20 more trains a day could clog the Port of Vancouver's capacity, even as the city and port have spent millions to expand there.

Dorethea Simone of Camas held a "coal pollutes" sign in front of City Hall, wearing her nurse scrubs. She said she's seen the effects of pollution on patients in the form of cancer and asthma. Coal dust will only make that worse, she said.

"Everything possible should be done to stop this," Simone said. "I don't want to see more people die of lung cancer."

Other cities to pass similar resolutions include Camas, Washougal, Longview, Stevenson, Seattle and Hood River, Ore. The Clark County Board of Commissioners also sent a letter to the state asking to be a party to environmental review plans.

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