Mike Prager, September 26, 2013, The Spokesman-Review
Inland Northwest residents turned out in force in Spokane on Wednesday evening to persuade officials that a proposed West Side shipping terminal’s potential environmental impacts reach far beyond its site on the lower Columbia River.
“The environmental impact statement should include environmental impacts in Spokane,” Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart told representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington state and Cowlitz County at a hearing at the Spokane Convention Center. “Spokane deserves to know how these terminals would affect our quality of life.”
Millennium Bulk Terminals wants to build a $600 million facility in Longview, Wash., to ship coal from Montana and Wyoming to China and other Asian countries where it will be used mainly to generate electricity.
Officials are taking public comment on what should be included in an environmental impact statement required before the project goes forward.
Opponents cited concerns over health hazards, coal dust, traffic blockages, water pollution and global warming resulting from transporting and burning the coal.
“Do not be bringing that damn coal into my town,” said Dave Bilsland, of Spokane.
Environmentalists and other opponents of the terminal, many of whom were dressed in red T-shirts, dominated public testimony before a crowd of about 400.
Proponents, dressed in blue T-shirts, talked to reporters outside the meeting hall.
“This is a great project that brings jobs to this state at a time when we need jobs,” said Rich Hadley, president and CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated.
Ken Miller, president and CEO for Millennium Bulk Terminals, said his company is reclaiming an old aluminum smelter site, which will eliminate old smelter pollution sources as part of redevelopment of the site.
The company said the project will create 2,650 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs.
The 500-acre site might eventually be developed for commodities other than coal, such as grain from Washington, Miller said.
Miller said he expects about eight trains a day to serve the coal port when it is completed. It is not clear how many of those trains would pass through Spokane.
Project proponents said the environmental study should not include impacts from Asian energy use.
Former Spokane Valley Mayor Diana Wilhite urged the agencies to move quickly on the environmental review so as “not to hold Washington hostage for what a communist country may or may not do.”
An environmental hearing for another proposed coal port, Cherry Point in Bellingham, brought a crowd of about 800 in Spokane last winter.
Courtney Wallace, a spokeswoman for BNSF Railway, said the Bellingham project might draw eight coal trains a day on BNSF lines through North Idaho and Eastern Washington.
Sightline Institute in Seattle said in a recent study that proposed coal ports could bring an additional 34 coal trains through the Inland Northwest per day.
Vanessa Braided Hair, of Lame Deer, Mont., told officials one of the mines is tearing up ancestral burial grounds of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in the Otter Creek area.
“I do not want my ancestral homeland to be a sacrifice zone for Asia,” she said.