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Coal backers hire temp workers to stand in line

Backers and opponents of coal shipments from Pacific Northwest ports gather in line early today to get spots for public testimony on a public hearing over a proposed coal port near Bellingham. (Mike Prager)
Backers and opponents of coal shipments from Pacific Northwest ports gather in line early today to get spots for public testimony on a public hearing over a proposed coal port near Bellingham. (Mike Prager)

Opponents of facility on West Side plan rally

A trade organization promoting coal shipments from Pacific Northwest ports hired about 30 temporary workers to stand in line at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center this morning to secure the limited number of cards that will be handed out for testimony this afternoon.

Hundreds of people are converging on Spokane today for the fifth in a series of public meetings on a proposed coal terminal near Bellingham.

State and federal agencies are convening the meeting at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center, 404 N. Havana St., at 4 p.m.

But testimony will be allowed only for those who arrived early.

One environmentalist opposed to coal said she was one of the first in line and was holding a place for tribal officials from Wyoming to testify.

She said the temporary workers all showed up at the same time about 8 a.m. wearing green T-shirts supporting coal shipments.

Only one of the temporary workers acknowledged that he was hired to hold a place in line. The others declined comment.

The temporary workers were hired by the Northwest Alliance for Jobs and Exports, an industry- and union-backed group.

Lauri Hennessey, a spokeswoman for the alliance, said that rules allowing testimony on a first-come basis has resulted in people holding spots in line on both sides of the debate at earlier hearings in other cities. About hiring the temporary workers, she said, “We are not ashamed of that in any way.”

Michael Beasley, of Spokane, a coal opponent, said the two sides were getting along while waiting in line. “These are a bunch of people trying to put food on the table,” he said of the temporary workers.

Opponents of coal shipments have scheduled a rally for 3 p.m. at the fairgrounds.

Busloads of coal opponents are arriving from Montana and Wyoming and will be joining Spokane-area opponents, said Krista Collard of the Power Past Coal organization. Many will be dressed in red shirts so they will stand out.

On Monday, opponents said they were staging an event along Interstate 90 in east Spokane with a lighted sign that read “Coal=Poison.”

Collard said that up to 2,000 people have turned out at earlier community meetings on the proposed coal terminal and rail facility at Cherry Point on northern Puget Sound in Whatcom County.

BNSF Railway coal trains are already a common sight along the main line through North Idaho and Spokane.

Construction of new coal facilities along the West Coast could bring a dramatic increase in the size and frequency of coal trains.

The Western Organization of Resource Councils earlier this year estimated that an additional 28 coal trains a day would go through Sandpoint and Spokane by 2017, and that the number of coal trains could rise to 63 a day by 2022.

Railroad officials said BNSF could carry up to half of the coal being extracted from mines in Montana and Wyoming with Union Pacific Railroad.

Local concerns involve coal dust coming off the uncovered loads, derailments, traffic tie-ups and the risk of pollution to waterways.

Collard said there is no guarantee that Asian demand will continue in coming years. Recently, a coal port in Alaska was closed due to slack demand while coal miners were laid off in Western states, she said.

In a broader sense, environmentalists are concerned about increases in global warming due to carbon dioxide released by burning coal.



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