Sumner – The Sumner City Council rejected resolution 1378 regarding increased rail traffic March 4. The resolution addressed the Council’s concerns of economic and environmental impacts of uncovered coal trains.
Pacific International Terminals has proposed to build the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point, where 18 coal trains – nine full and nine empty – would deliver coal from the Powder River Basin in Montana each day.
Mayor Dave Enslow sent a letter in August to the Washington State Department of Ecology, and local, state and national elected officials requesting for Sumner to be included in the scoping process of the Environmental Impact Statement for GPT project.
The rails the 18 trains would take run through Sumner. Currently, 54 trains run through Sumner each day. “It’s not like we’re not used to trains,” Council Member Nancy Dumas said. “But when you add trains that are bigger, longer and heavier,” that’s a different issue.
Dumas drafted the resolution that failed four to three on March 4.
The Council has many concerns regarding the increase of rail traffic.
Tacoma and much of Pierce County does not meet the federal health standard for air quality, according to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. Also, diesel engine exhaust is classified as a carcinogenic to humans, according to the National Toxicology Program.
The Council is also concerned that a diseconomy could be created when downtown businesses are cut off by the mile-and-a-half-long trains that could take up to eight minutes to pass the seven rail crossing in town.
If the resolution had passed, the City Council would have requested that the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. inform it of significant rail traffic increases through Sumner. The Council also would have requested to meet with representatives from BNSF to address local concerns and the City Council and to send letters to Representatives Suzan DelBene and Adam Smith and Senator Maria Cantwell in appreciation of their request for the need for a Cumulative lmpact Analysis and EIS.
Four of the Council members said the resolution was out of process.
“We are out of bounds in process and this dilutes our power in this issue,” Council Member Steve Alsop said. “The process now would be to let the comments and questions for the EIS be vetted, which is a year-long process.”
Deputy Mayor, Mike LeMaster agreed with Alsop.
However, Council Member Randy Hynek disagreed. “There are a lot of cities that have signed resolutions against coal trains, including Bellingham. They thought it was professional,” Hynek said. “We need to let our officials know what we stand for. Just going one route is not complete – there is no official process.”
“We want assurances from the railroad to our community,” Dumas said. “We can either be leaders, or we can be followers.”
Enslow disagreed with the approach the resolution would take, although he doesn’t get to vote. “I want to react to the EIS,” Enslow said. “I think the city has weighed in pretty early with our concerns.”
While voting, both LeMaster and Alsop said, “respectfully, no.”
Without talking much on the issue, Curt Brown said, “I don’t see the harm, yes.”
Although the Council is divided on how to approach the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, the council unanimously agrees that it is against the increased rail traffic the BPT project would bring.
“You won’t find any pro coal train people in town,” LeMaster said.
“If citizens are noticing changes or have concerns, they can come and address the Council,” Dumas said.