SEATTLE (AP) — More than 2,000 opponents and supporters of a plan to ship coal through a northwest Washington terminal turned out Thursday for a final public meeting on the controversial proposal.
Six other public meetings have been conducted around the state concerning a possible coal export terminal near Ferndale. The hearings are designed to help government agencies determine the scope of a planned environmental impact statement.
Many business and labor groups support the plan, saying it will mean jobs and commerce.
Among the worries are coal's contribution to global warming and the potential impact to Puget Sound's ecosystem.
Opponents who testified ranged from a Seattle schoolgirl concerned about the environment to a southeast Montana ranch manager worried about how mining the coal in his state will affect the groundwater he relies on.
"Children like me have things taken away by global warming," said Rachel Howell, 12. She listed salmon, oysters and skiing as joys in her life that could be threatened.
"More coal mining where I live to meet the Asian market will impact my livelihood in many ways, but particularly groundwater," said Brad Sauer, who manages a 123-year-old Montana ranch. He said that for water, his ranch relies on a shallow aquifer that is threatened by huge, unreclaimed open-pit coal mines.
The $600 million Gateway Pacific Project proposed by SSA Marine of Seattle at Cherry Point is the largest of five proposed terminals in Washington and Oregon. The terminals would ship coal from Montana and Wyoming to power plants in Asia. The terminal could handle up to 54 million bulk tons a year. It could handle other bulk cargo, such as grain.
China will find coal even if the United States won't deliver it, said Herb Krohn from the United Transportation Union. "All we would do is force (China) to buy dirtier, more-polluting coal," he said.
The Seattle hearing was moved to the state convention center because it can accommodate 3,500 people. About 650 people attended a Wednesday night hearing in Vancouver, and hundreds more attended recent meetings in Spokane, Ferndale, Bellingham, Mount Vernon and Friday Harbor.
Coal export opponents staged an outdoor protest earlier Thursday at a park near the convention center.