Puyallup and Sumner leaders are voicing concerns about traffic congestion and other problems that proposed increases in coal trains through East Pierce County could cause.
The cities are adding to regional worries that at least 18 trains per day will be added to Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks for exporting coal from Montana and Wyoming to Asia through a proposed terminal in Whatcom County.
Puyallup City Council member John Palmer said he wants the council to agree tonight to prepare a letter or resolution to the state and to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It would urge them to examine how the proposed Cherry Point terminal near Ferndale would affect Puyallup and other local communities.
Palmer worries about vehicle congestion at the half-dozen rail crossings in Puyallup and the coal dust and diesel emissions the trains could leave behind.
“My concern is to make sure all these impacts to the City of Puyallup and every other city in the Puget Sound are considered as part of the environmental review,” Palmer said.
He and council member Kent Boyle, who couldn’t be reached for comment, have asked the City Council to discuss the issue at its meeting today at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall.
Palmer works as a policy adviser on water quality and salmon protection with the Environmental Protection Agency in Seattle. He said his work does not involve the coal train issue. But the EPA would play a role in the upcoming environmental review of the project.
In Sumner, Mayor Dave Enslow recently asked the state Department of Ecology to address his concerns about traffic and safety in its environmental study.
A total of 18 mile-long trains would run through Sumner each day, in addition to the 50 passenger and freight trains that already pass through daily. Each train would cause about a six-minute crossing delay, stopping traffic for a total of 108 more minutes a day, Enslow said. Fire trucks and police cars would be stuck with other vehicles.
“We think there’s the potential for a long train to disrupt the town,” Enslow said. “We just want to add our voice to all the people who are concerned about this.”
Business and labor groups have supported the region-wide coal export project, saying it will bring more jobs.
The $600 million Gateway Pacific Project at Cherry Point would be the largest of five proposed terminals in Washington and Oregon. The other site in Washington is in Longview, which wouldn’t add to traffic congestion for the Puget Sound region.
A public comment period on the Cherry Point project ends Jan. 21, after which an environmental impact statement will be drafted. The terminal could handle up to 54 million bulk tons a year.
Last month, hundreds of opponents and supporters of the project turned out in Seattle at the final public meeting on the project before the environmental review.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine were among those worried about the effects of many more trains per day. McGinn said Seattle will study the traffic and safety impacts on the firstname.lastname@example.org