The Cherry Point Controversy

Cherry Point today

Cherry Point is the last deep water port location available on the West Coast. A company named SSA Marine has started the application process to built the Gateway Pacific Terminal. This has caused a HUGE controversy.

Here are the key points:

  1. Shipping Coal to China
  2. Increased traffic of super heavy coal trains (Our railroad tracks run right along the coast and right through town)
  3. Coal dust

Shipping Coal to China

This is the big environmental issue that I don’t believe will be solved one way or the other whether this terminal is built or not. Would we like to get rid of coal burning altogether? If yes, will not building this terminal accomplish that? Will building this terminal increase coal burning?

Increased train traffic

Currently 15 trains per day run on the tracks. There are already these super heavy coal trains running on the tracks but Burlington Northern won’t say how many. The historic high appears to be around 26 total trains per day. I can verified when I checked one time 10 years ago they told me there were 23 trains per day (mostly at night).

According to the terminal builders, the new terminal can handle 8 trains per day at maximum production. They say these will not be 8 new trains because they expect to waylay some of the trains already on the tracks headed for terminals in BC.

Opponets say the heavy trains will compromise the bluffs along the route causing property damage and unsafe conditions. Burlington Northern says they routinely handle slides and it is their job to keep the tracks operational and safe. They say they are all over it.

A question I keep asking is, “What control do we, as citizens, have over how many trains can be run on the tracks?” The answer appears to be “None.” At least one case made it to the 9th Circuit Court who upheld their right to run as many trains as they want.

Coal Dust

It’s nasty, there is no doubt, but is it a risk to local residents? The Northwest Clean Air Agency has had no coal dust related aliments reported in the 20 years they have been monitoring.

At the loading terminal itself, opponents march out photos of 30 year old terminals with huge coal dust clouds eveloping the area. This is deceptive. It would be impossible to build those same terminals today anywhere. You can go to their website and check out SSA Marine’s proposed plans. It seems like they embrace state-of-the-art designs for dust containment.

I’m not sure that I support the terminal, although it certainly would be nice to have the high-paying jobs that Bellingham so desperately needs. I’m also not sure I support the opposition to the terminal. There are a lot of issues that are skewed and then emotionally charged and fed to the public. It is succeeding in riling up the locals.

What I do know is there are about 15 government agencies that have to be satisfied. Way too many for any palm greasing or funny stuff. The odds of this going through are pretty slim.

How do you feel? Where have you gathered your facts?