Twin Sisters mountain range and farm (courtesy of Jeff Curtis)

Whatcom County–a beautiful, agricultural county in the  northwest corner of Washington State–has worked for decades to create a diverse, sustainable community with robust business networks, stable agriculture, and an increasing number of green-oriented businesses. Whatcom is also home to the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve, a long stretch of coastline that supports a robust population of Dungeness crab, hosts migrating salmon, and once had a large population of Cherry Point Pacific herring–nearly half the spawning biomass of herring in the Salish Sea. These herring are the key foodstuff of migrating salmon, in turn critical forage for resident orcas.

BP, Intalco, and Conoco-Phillips refineries at Cherry Point

It is precisely where these Cherry Point Pacific herring spawn that SSA Marine has proposed to build a coal export terminal, which would be serviced by nearly 500 ships a year–bulk carriers, the largest, least safe ships on the seas. And each of these carriers will discharge up to 17 million gallons of ballast water picked up in foreign seas with warmer waters conducive to marine viruses and potentially threatening endangered species.

But the terminal wouldn’t exist in isolation. It would be serviced by trains transporting coal from the Powder River Basin, which spans the Montana/Wyoming border. These trains range up to 17,000 tons and 1.5 miles long, 150 uncovered coal cars each. At full operation–54 million tons of bulk goods a year–Whatcom County, and the cities of Bellingham and Ferndale–would expect to see the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) serviced by ten full trainloads every day. And each of those loads would return empty along the same route.

Coal train at waterfront redevelopment site in Bellingham (photo: Paul Anderson)

When combined with current traffic of 15 trains a day, Whatcom would see a train pass through every 41 minutes on average, with the longest trains blocking intersections for a minimum of five minutes each. The vast increase in train traffic would mean compromised emergency services, difficult waterfront access, and massive impacts on businesses that depend on grade crossings–particularly those businesses on the Bellingham waterfront, where a redevelopment project has been a decade in the making and is threatened by the GPT coal terminal proposal.

The GPT proposal threatens the very values that Whatcom County and Bellingham have been working to develop. Click on the “act” tab above to help fight this project.