Opinion

Let's stay on track, find solutions with coal trains | Keikkala

The Kent Chamber of Commerce has concerns regarding the application of Pacific International Terminals to develop the largest coal export facility in North America at Cherry Point in northwest Washington.

The Gateway Pacific Terminal would be operated by SSA Marine, a global leader in maritime services. Coal mined from Montana and Wyoming would be hauled by trains along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) rail lines. The coal train corridor extends from mines in Montana and Wyoming through Sandpoint, Idaho, to Spokane, down through the Columbia River Gorge, then up along the Puget Sound coast, passing through Longview, Tacoma, Kent, Seattle, Edmonds, Everett, Mount Vernon, Bellingham, Ferndale and all points in between.

We believe that coal trains would create significant adverse impact on local jobs and businesses, property values, human health and quality of life. The trains are expected to haul up to 54 million tons of coal per year.

There is uncertainty regarding the number of additional trains that will be added to the existing rail facilities. But initial estimates of 18 coal trains per day, each up to 1 1/2 miles in length, are expected to move along the corridor. This will adversely impact traffic and freight mobility along with impeding emergency vehicles.

Estimations in crossing delays range from one to two hours of additional delay every day from these 18 new coal trains in Kent.

The impact of local traffic congestion should be examined in the EIS (environmental impact study) and future congestion impacts need to be evaluated based on realistic expectations of future coal train traffic and not just initial minimum numbers of proposed trips at start up.

The city of Kent is the fifth largest industrial and warehouse distribution center in the nation and is the second largest on the West Coast. Freight mobility is at the utmost importance of the Kent business community. Substantial taxpayer investment may be required to support infrastructure to mitigate some of the potential adverse impacts created by the project.

Freight mobility is at the forefront of the Kent Chamber of Commerce concerns and we have myriad of these concerns that need to be evaluated in the EIS including:

• Increased traffic congestions and crossing delays will increase tailpipe emissions from stopped and idling vehicles and increased diesel emissions from train engines. These impacts to traffic congestion and air quality need to be evaluated in the EIS.

• Increased delay to school buses, which may increase the burden on financially strapped school districts to increase their fleets and transportation budgets to restore the transit times they originally planned for picking up children and transporting them to local schools.

• Rail capacity. Residents and business in Kent rely on Sound Transit Commuter Rail as mode of transportation. Will this traffic supplant or preclude additional Sounder Rail service? We request that the EIS look at how this project will affect completion for future rail capacity.

• According to the 2012 Washington State Congestion Report, the cost of congestion is $21.90 per hour. Considering 18 trains per day imposing anywhere from one to two hours of delay and around 100,000 vehicles being affected, many with more than one occupant, the cost of delay could be estimated to be in the millions of dollars to Kent residents and businesses alone. The EIS should examine the magnitude of this economic cost to communities along the corridor.

We look forward to working together for solutions to mitigate and quell our concerns regarding the Gateway Pacific Terminal. The Kent Chamber of Commerce wants to be a partner in the State's economic vitality but not to the determent of our community.

Andrea Keikkala is executive director of the Kent Chamber of Commerce. Reach her at andreak@kentchamber.com or 253-854-1770, ext. 140.

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