Potential local impacts of coal trains need to be taken seriously

By Heather Acheson, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

In Camas and Washougal, the sounds of trains passing through our communities have become almost commonplace. Each day we see and hear them go by, often as we wait for the train cars to clear local BNSF railroad crossings. We may not like them much, but we live with them because they are just one aspect of these two communities that have so many other great qualities.

But a new proposal from Millennium Bulk Terminals to build a $600 million terminal west of Longview to export 44 million tons of coal annually could make this situation worse. If approved, it would dramatically increase the number of trains heading through the Camas-Washougal area by 20 to 30 each day. These trains would be 1 mile to 1.5 miles long, carrying coal that would eventually be loaded up on barges bound for the Asian market.

And that is just the beginning of what these proposed coal trains could potentially bring through, and leave behind, in Camas and Washougal.

In addition to the increased traffic congestion that the trains would likely cause, there are other legitimate concerns as well. Increased noise is one, and the possibility of toxic chemical coal dust flying off of open-air train cars is another. Both issues have the potential to create harmful economic and health consequences.

Project proponents argue that a suppression agent that could be applied to keep the coal in place during transport from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming to Longview would mitigate the amount of coal dust that enters the air, soil and water. But even if these coal companies actually agree to apply the agent, it is not 100 percent effective.

Camas and Washougal city leaders, merchants, developers, property owners and concerned citizens have stepped forward to voice opposition to the proposal and concern about the impacts that could come as a result.

Their concerns have merit, and the potential impacts of these coal trains on the Camas and Washougal communities needs to be included within the scope of the project’s environmental impact study. Longview is certainly not the only city that will be affected by this proposal.

The residents who live in Camas and Washougal and other cities along the rail line deserve thoughtful consideration when it comes to a proposal that could so dramatically change the current and future livability of our communities.

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