Sunday, December 2, 2012

Notes From Coal Terminal Ferndale Hearing

The proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County had another public hearing on the scope of the environmental impact statement this last week. This hearing was in Ferndale and follows previous hearings in Bellingham, Friday harbor and Mount Vernon. There are hearing scheduled in Vancouver, Seattle and Spokane.

Previous hearings have been dominated by opponents or those wanting a broad environmental scope. For this hearing the coal terminal proponents put more effort into stacking the meeting.

Most of the earlier arrivals did not speak. They entered the hearing and were given numbers which were then collected by staff and redistributed to people that they wanted to speak. The hearing began at 3:00 pm. The first opponent to speak against the terminal told me he arrived at 10:30; he was the 63rd speaker.

As far as a numbers game went, I estimated about 60% that attended were opposed to the terminal. By the end of the hearing the number that spoke in favor versus opposed was about 50/50.

The proponents main message was "Jobs". Very few spoke to the scope of the EIS; when they did, it was about considering the economic benefits. A few did suggest the scope be narrow and not consider larger issues outside the project site itself. I was surprised at the number of proponents that were off message. One very early speaker, whose business would like have a shot at constructing the steel works of the project stated "any environmental issue should be mitigated" - did he really mean "any". Several mentioned the project should move forward, but included statements about rail/traffic impacts being addressed with on even suggesting that rial impacts in the City of Edmonds be addressed. More than a few took the opportunity to lecture the crowd of opponents and one proponent said the EIS should include an evaluation of the impacts of the radical environmental movement.

Opponents laid out in the very short time allowed arguments for including a variety of issues on the scope of the project: air emissions locally, dust, water use to suppress dust, rail impacts to communities, CO2, vessel traffic problems, herring, crab fishery.

The most compelling take away is the clear solid opposition by First Nations Peoples. The Lummi Nation is solidly opposed to this project. EIS scope may or may not be as broad or narrow as some would care for, but the strong unequivocal opposition by the Lummi Nation will be very difficult to overcome.

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