Increased Coal Train traffic spurs resolution by Washougal City Council

March 18, 2012

Public comment supports the council resolution

Washougal City Council discusses Coal Train resolution (photo Martha Martin)












 Martha Martin/Silver Star Reporter

Monday evening’s Washougal Council workshop brought over a dozen citizens to the podium in support of a city resolution requesting that Washougal have a voice in the BNSF railroad coal train expansion.  The possibility of an increase in mile-long coal trains to 20 or more per day has citizens concerned about issues such as pollution from coal dust, increased noise, and long waits at rail road crossings, as well as impacts on business and the local economy.

According to information reported by Friends of the Gorge, there are plans to ship millions of tons of coal by rail from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming through the Columbia Gorge to Northwest ports for export to Asian markets.  Each coal train can be a mile long or more.  If these plans move forward, an estimated 20 to 40 “uncovered” coal trains would travel the rails through the Gorge, and through the cities of Washougal and Camas.

The resolution, among other things, requests that Washougal be a “party of record” for the Gateway Pacific Terminal Project (GPT) in Whatcom county and the Millennium Project in Cowlitz county.  The resolution requests that impacts along the rail line through Washougal be included in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and also urges the State Department of Ecology, the Army Cops of Engineers, as well as both Whatcom and Cowlitz counties, to conduct at least one EIS scoping hearing for each project in a Clark County location.

The council will be voting on the resolution at their next meeting on March 19.

Citizens voice concerns

Keith Brown, former Skamania County fire commissioner (photo Martha Martin)

Local citizens voiced their various concerns regarding the possibility of increased coal train rail traffic.

Keith Brown of rural Washougal, and a former Skamania County Fire Commissioner, talked about the increased fire danger along the tracks with increased rail traffic.  “I urge the council to pass the resolution so that all the issues that will affect our community can be considered”.

His wife, Teresa Robbins, President of the Cape Horn

Teresa Robbins, President Cape Horn Conservancy (photo Martha Martin)

Conservancy, expressed concern with pollution from coal dust.   She brought concerns of a friend who had relocated from Pennsylvania because of coal dust pollution who is alarmed that this could also be an issue in our community as well.  She related her friends statement “We moved away from Pennsylvania to get away from the coal trains” going on to add “the pollution was immense”.

Dan Huntington, a long time advocate for the Cape Horn

Can Huntington, Columbia Gorge real estate specialist (photo Martha Martin)

Trail in the Columbia Gorge,  expressed concern about impact on real estate, and gave his support to the resolution. “When we sell real estate, we’re selling essentially a vision of a lifestyle that people come to this beautiful area for, and that vision would be totally shattered by increased trains coming through the area”.

Eleanor Warren, owner Kahnaway Art & Ecology Center, Washougal

Many expressed concerns about the possible increase in pollution from coal dust, such as John Janssen, Linda Beatty, and Karen Burnham of Washougal also drew attention to the close proximity of schools to the rail road tracks and impacts to children at play.

Eleanor Warren, owner of Kahnaway Ecology Art Center in Washougal, expressed concern for increased pollution, stating “I’m a mother-to-be, and the thought of my child growing up in a community with potentially 84 thousand tons of coal dust coming down through the Gorge annually is terrifying”.

Marilyn Tyrell asked “What’s in it for Washougal?”, referring to the shipment of coal going to areas outside of Clark County.  She went on to say that “this is a very dusty place for me to live in, and if we add coal dust to that, I would be very concerned”.

Karen Jones of Vancouver expressed concern for the impact to local wildlife, stating “the benefits from this [increased coal train traffic}would be very small but the costs would be very great”.

Larry Keister, board member Cape Horn Conservancy (photo Martha Martin)

Larry Keister of Washougal mentioned the importance of keeping the area pristine as it relates to recent efforts at improving economic development, while Richard Hamby, also Washougal, pointed out the concerns with impacts at the various grade crossings.

Only one citizen voiced opposition to the resolution; Joe Levesque of Camas stated that he felt he was in the “minority”, and described his concerns with “how the Sierra Club operates”.  He stated that “they have been lying and cheating, and deceiving people, and scaring the whits out of them.”

Joe Levesque of Camas (photo Martha Martin)

He stated that the Sierra Club ” have done more damage to our country then anybody”.  He went on to say that what is needed to be successful in Camas and Washougal is more growth.  “I’ve got opportunities that I’ve never seen before; people in this community are stopping it from happening”.  He went on to describe a development project he proposed for property owned by the Port of Camas-Washougal near 6th Street.  “If the Port had accepted my deal, I would have brought in 474 million dollars to this property”.   He went on to elaborate on this project which appeared to be unrelated to the coal train resolution.  He finished by emphasizing “don’t stop the growth”.

Council member Joyce Lindsay thanked the public for their comments “toward this important issue”.

Council member Paul Greenlee thanked the public for coming and assisting the council in this decision.  He relayed his memories of time he spent in Pennsylvania, and stated he is aware of “devastation” around areas such as Scranton.

Council member Dave Shoemaker stated that he saw this current version of the resolution as better than previous versions, and thanked the staff for their work.  He went on to state that he wanted the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) to “develop proof of pollution” for him to be persuaded.  He stated he wanted three things: evidence of significant amounts of coal dust being deposited, BNSF mitigation on any affects,  and health problems that can be documented which come from coal.

Council member Jennifer McDaniel asked about the agencies that would be responsible for the EIS.  David Scott, City Administrator mentioned several; Department of Ecology, Whatcom County, Cowlitz County, emphasizing that the City of Washougal “does not have a decision to make”.  He said that it is prudent for the city to request being part of this process, with rail traffic going through the community.

To see a copy of the resolution being considered by the City of Washougal, Click Here and view the last document in the city’s meeting packet.  City Council will be voting on the resolution on Monday, March 19.