Coal Plant Controversy

by Lauren Sigfusson

Horizon Reporter

A public forum and debate on a proposed coal terminal in Bellingham, sponsored by the Sustainability Club, sparked many questions from students and public alike.

SSA Marine’s Gateway Pacific Terminal has filed for permits to build in Cherry Point, Ferndale, Wash. It would be a multi-cargo terminal shipping dry bulk commodities such as grains, potash, wood biofuels and, most debated, coal, to Asian markets.

Bob Ferris, Executive Director of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, and David Warren, consultant for the proposed terminal, sat on the Syre Auditorium stage, on Nov. 20, ready to answer questions. Whatcom Community College students and the public turned up in droves, eager to hear what they had to say.

The main topics of the debate were the economic and ecological impacts the terminal would have on the community.

“From an ecological point this seems insane,” said Ferris. He said coal dust will be found in water, affecting the Cherry Point herring and wetlands. There is no terminal that doesn’t have a coal dust problem and Ridley terminal in British Columbia even offers free power-washing to homes in the area due to coal dust, he said.

Murmurs were heard throughout the audience when Warren refuted Ferris’ statement, “I absolutely reject the theory that we will be spreading coal dust throughout the community, into the water and into the air,” he said. Coal trains have been coming through our community for years, without notice or coal dust, said Warren.

Other facilities were built years ago and that’s why they release coal dust, Warren said. He said this facility will be the most environmentally safe in the world today and that they care about the environment first, jobs second.

Warren added that 1,715 direct jobs would be created during the two-year construction of the facility and another 430 direct jobs to run the facility. “I’m really in favor of these jobs,” he said.”We desperately need these jobs in this community.”

Ferris argued that selling the coal to China at a subsidized rate would create more jobs there than here, ultimately displacing jobs created in the U.S.

Ferris responded to rumors that coal trains will still come through at an alarming rate, even if the terminal was declined. He said this was unlikely because it’s more expensive to go through Bellingham than Canada.

Warren argued that said trains will come no matter what, but Bellingham won’t get anything out of it if the terminal isn’t approved.

The terminal will undergo an extensive environmental review, making sure it fulfills at least 15 federal, state, and local environmental laws and regulations. If they can’t satisfy all of those and the labor council doesn’t support the project, they will pull out, said Warren.

Nearly 17 community members lined up to ask Ferris and Warren questions. Not all had the chance to speak, but each who did was polite and thankful for their response.

More information on the project can be found at and at

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