Even without terminals, coal trains will cross Washington

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EVERETT — The Seattle company that wants to build a coal train terminal in Bellingham says the trains will still pass through Washington on their way to Canada even if three proposed Northwest coal terminals are not built.

Coal from Montana and Wyoming is already being shipped to British Columbia, and terminals there are expanding, The Herald reported in Sunday’s newspaper.

Opponents of building coal export terminals in Washington and Oregon say they would bring traffic congestion from the number of trains, and generate coal dust and greenhouse gases.

Supporters say Cherry Point near Bellingham, another proposed terminal at Longview and a third at the Port of Morrow, Ore., will create jobs — 4,400 temporary, construction-related jobs and 1,200 long-term positions.

“We do know there’s demand (for coal in Asia) and port operators will seek to service that demand, whether they’re in the United States or British Columbia,” said SSA Marine spokesman Craig Cole, from the Seattle company that wants the Bellingham terminal built

On average, about four coal trains per day pass through Snohomish County on their way to Canada, according to BNSF Railway.

The Cherry Point terminal could ship an estimated 60 million tons per year of coal, grain, potash and scrap wood for biofuels to Asia. Coal would make up the bulk of the shipments, according to the state Department of Ecology, which is handling the environmental review for the project. That review is expected to take at least a couple more years.

The Millennium terminal proposed for Longview would have a coal capacity of about 48 million tons, according to the ecology department. Trains to this port would travel across the state but not north to Seattle and beyond.

Another smaller terminal targeted for Boardman, Ore., on the Columbia River could handle just under 9 million tons.

Together, these ports could ship 117 million tons per year.

Possible expansions at the five ports in British Columbia could add 55 million tons per year to their current capacity, according to numbers compiled by SSA Marine.

If all of the B.C. expansions come to pass,”there will be additional coal that will be going to British Columbia, and we will be working hard to increase the percentage,” said Jim Orchard, senior vice president of marketing and government affairs for Cloud Peak Energy, a coal-mining company based in Denver.

At the same time, it won’t equal what could be shipped through the U.S. terminals, he said.

Cloud Peak operates two mines in Wyoming and one in southeastern Montana, in the area known as the Powder River Basin, Orchard said.

The greater the shipping capacity, the faster the coal can be mined without piling up, he said.

Without the U.S. terminals, “the timing with which we get to new reserves, it just would take longer,” Orchard said.

Courtney Wallace, a spokeswoman for BNSF Railway, said freight rail traffic will increase through Washington with or without coal export from the state.

“Washington state’s economy is built on trade and ports and demand is increasing domestically for all goods as the population grows,” she said. “That’s a good thing, especially for a state like Washington that is heavily dependent on trade.”