Updated with comments from Seattle Port Commissioner Gael Tarleton.
If Whatcom County succeeds in building the country's largest coal export terminal outside of Bellingham, Seattle will soon be saddled with 16-plus coal trains rumbling through the waterfront, disrupting downtown traffic and freight up to two hours a day, according to a thorough new study authored by Sightline's Eric de Place. The report breaks down the specific streets and volumes of traffic that would be effected, for all of you nerds out there hot for traffic studies.
But the real news is that even as the Port of Seattle and other manufacturing and industrial interests fight Seattle's SoDo arena deal on the grounds that game-day traffic congestion would cripple freight mobility, the report notes that these same interest groups have been eerily silent on the adverse impacts of moving coal trains through Seattle.
Their silence isn't a huge surprise; manufacturing and industrial interests tend to back each other. But it's a rather hypocritical non-position to take while in the midst of bitching to anyone who'll listen that traffic congestion from a basketball arena will destroy commerce. And as de Place's notes:
It might be one thing if the coal trains were producing a tangible economic benefit for Seattle. After all, it’s perfectly reasonable to accept some level of traffic impairment in order to provide local jobs, freight access to the port, or support the city’s industrial base. But the coal trains have virtually nothing to offer Seattle except delay and pollution. They will connect a handful of mining jobs in Wyoming or Montana to a handful of railroad jobs to a relatively small number of jobs at a port site near the Canadian border. But at what cost to jobs and businesses in Seattle and other cities along the way?
Seattle has very little leverage in the coal terminal decision—the city council already unanimously passed a resolution opposing coal transportation through Seattle—and the industrial community's silence on this issue isn't helping.
UPDATE: Seattle Port Commissioner Gael Tarleton responds, "My position is clear: No public money on coal or any fossil fuel facilities, or on arenas. If private interests are the winners, then private money pays."
"Cities should be demanding a cumulative environmental review of all coal trains passing through cities to measure the industry's true environmental footprint and impacts."