Can islanders influence coal transport? | Guest column

By Rebecca Hellman, San Olson and Donna Gerardi Riordan of Lopez NO COALition and Orcas NO COALition

Many wonder if we citizens can influence coal transport around the San Juan Islands.  We can, but first, we need to get informed and involved.

How? Attend “coal” events this summer and fall to inform yourself about the costs and risks to our environment, economy, and way of life by the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal.

Next, get involved. Attend a workshop this fall to learn how to write a “scoping” letter to identify key issues and concerns about the impacts of coal transport around our islands that must be addressed in the required Environmental Impact Statement. The scoping process, only open for 120 days, is our only opportunity to comment. It is critical to realize that GPT’s proponents are counting on you to do nothing, and not take the time to learn about the full economic costs of this project.

Scoping letters are written to ensure that the EIS process for the GPT  includes consideration of all potential impacts of coal transport across the state by rail and ships through U.S waters. Each impact is counted, the higher the number, the more political weight it is given.  However, well-framed issues, even if suggested by only a few people, could trigger a more comprehensive study of the cumulative impacts. If the EIS does not fully scope that impact, it could be used in appeals at a later date.  The key is that impacts are identified now.  The Lopez and Orcas NO COALitions will bring in presenters to provide tips for effective letters that ensure that your concerns are clearly stated and are tied to specific actions. The best way to be sure your concern is included is to participate in this public process.

Here are some broad examples of issues that could be included in scoping letters:

1. Possible shipping accidents (grounding, collision, loss of power or steering) caused by crowding of narrow shipping channels, as well as dangers and delays to ferries and commuters who depend on safe and reliable transportation to and from Anacortes, as well as recreational boating transits.

2. Unknowns about the types of dispersant used in event of a spill that could pollute the air and water exposing people to health risks.

3. Increased wave action from Capesize vessels affecting boats and structures on shorelines.

4. Introduction into our marine habitats of exotic species by unregulated ballast water discharge.

5. Ship noise, fuel or cargo spills, diesel exhaust, or coal dust that may affect marine species like herring, salmon, or orcas.

6. Threats to San Juan County’s economic health and tourism, by degradation of our local environment.

7. Impacts on future job growth for established industries or future clean industries.

8. Our ability to catch safe-to-eat fish, crabs, shrimp, or shellfish due to contamination.

The nonpartisan Lopez and Orcas NO COALitions  provide up-to-date information for informed participation during Scoping Workshops. For more information and about upcoming meetings go to www.lopeznocoalition.org or www.orcasnocoalition.org.