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Seattle coal-export hearing packed, mostly by opponents

By Craig Welch and Brian M. Rosenthal
The Seattle Times

More than 2,300 people (with the vast majority of the crowd and speakers decked out in red anti-coal shirts) packed two rooms at the Washington State Convention Center on Thursday to tell government officials what they thought about plans to export coal from Rocky Mountain states through ports in the Northwest.

They came carrying drums and American flags, decked out in soccer gear and cowboy hats and divided themselves by the color of their shirts.

More than 2,300 people packed two rooms at the Washington State Convention Center on Thursday to tell government officials what they thought about plans to export coal from Rocky Mountain states through ports in the Northwest.

The hearing, sponsored by Whatcom County, the state Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was the last of several around the region. It asked the public what issues should be studied when the government kicks off an environmental review next month of plans to ship 48 million tons of coal to Asia through a terminal at Cherry Point outside Ferndale in Whatcom County.

Supporters indicated study should focus only on that one terminal.

"Should the Cherry Point site be scrutinized? Absolutely," said Shahraim Allen, chair of the Washington State Legislative Board of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, who, like many coal-terminal supporters, wore a green shirt. "Should the impact on Puget Sound be studied? Without a doubt. But that is where the studies should stop."

But with the vast majority of the crowd and speakers decked out in red anti-coal shirts, discussion often centered on more than just the so-called Gateway Pacific Terminal. It included concerns about the ecological risks of other proposed Northwest coal ports, from the Oregon side of the Columbia River to southwest Washington.

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