SEATTLE - Hundreds of supporters and opponents of a plan to ship trains full of coal to a Whatcom County terminal fought to make their voices heard at a hearing Thursday at the Washington State Convention Center.
The trains would come from Montana and Wyoming, head west along the Oregon border, then turn north along the Puget Sound to an export terminal near Ferndale. From there, the coal would be loaded on ships headed to Asia.
Thursday's public hearing was moved to the Convention Center in Seattle because of the size of the crowd. Names were drawn to decide who could speak.
Opposed to the plan are environmentalists, who argue that shipping millions of tons of coal to China to fuel power plants would only pollute the air.
A local fisherman worried that it will change the chemical balance of our oceans.
"About 30 percent of the carbon dioxide is absorbed by the Earth's oceans, which then become more acidic," said Pete Knudsen. "We're already seeing impacts to shellfish in Puget Sound, oyster failures."
"Data has already shown that inhalation of coal dust increases chronic bronchitis, emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis and potentially ischemic strokes," said Dr. Melissa Weakland of the Washington Academy of Family Physicians.
Other opposition stemmed the mile-long trains that would run through the Puget Sound area to get to that terminal.
"Hauling 18 trains through here every day will block the movement of goods and workers and it will hurt our economy," said King County Executive Dow Constantine. "At key grade crossings, more than 1,000 bus trips every day could be delayed because of these trains."
Supporters focused on economic benefits: good paying jobs for the community and tax revenue.
Business leaders from King County and other parts of the state said 4,400 jobs would be created just to build the Gateway Pacific Terminal and another 1,200 workers would run the operation in Whatcom County.
State and local tax revenue would amount to millions of dollars, government officials said.
"I think Bellingham, Whatcom County -- we need this business growth -- being sensitive to the environment, but growing our community," said John Strong, a Bellingham business owner.
Labor unions representing construction trades gathered at the Convention Center in green shirts. They say coal shipments will require expanded port facilities, which will boost jobs in the region.