GPT/Custer Spur EIS
c/o CH2M HILL
1100 112th Avenue NE Suite 400
Bellevue, WA 98004
RE: City of Bellingham's Second Set of Scoping Comments on the Gateway Pacific Terminal
Dear Sir or Madam:
This letter is the City of Bellingham's second set of scoping comments on the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) proposal. These scoping comments are provided pursuant to both the Washington State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The scoping comments are submitted to you on behalf of the City of Bellingham ("City").
On July 23, 2012 the Bellingham City Council adopted Resolution 2012-22 ("Resolution"), which highlighted the need for additional Burlington Northern Santa Fe ("BNSF") railroad infrastructure within the City in order for the GPT project to function as proposed at full build-out in 2026. The Resolution also specified how this infrastructure would negatively affect the City's ability to achieve its adopted Legacies and Strategic Commitments. The Resolution provided the foundation for the City's December 12, 2012 scoping letter that identified resources and planning efforts within the City and its Urban Growth Area that would be negatively impacted by the GPT proposal.
The City is now providing the following specific scoping comments for consideration and inclusion in the Final Scoping Document. Pursuant to SEPA these scoping comments intend to:
1. Identify City resources and planning efforts that may be negatively affected by the proposal;
2. Provide a description of significant unavoidable adverse impacts;
3. Recommend a reasonable range of alternatives; and
4. Recommend mitigation measures to avoid, minimize and mitigate effects of the proposal
1. City resources and planning efforts may be negatively affected by the GPT and the associated increase in the number of dry-bulk commodity trains (including coal) as well as their length, frequency, duration and weight:
Negative impacts to funded and completed at grade improvements. Within the last eight years the City has implemented upgrades at two existing at grade crossings costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. These improvements occurred at the intersections of Roeder Avenue and F Street and Wharf and Pine Streets.
Therefore, please require the applicants to analyze the suitability of the completed improvements in relation to the increase in the number, length, frequency, duration and weight resulting from up to 18 additional dry-bulk commodity trains (including coal) that are expected to pass through these at grade crossings per day.
Potential unsuitability of crossings if project completed. Additional at grade crossings and water-body crossings exist within the City have not been upgraded and may not be suitable for the increase in the number, length, frequency, duration and weight resulting from up to 18 additional dry-bulk commodity trains (including coal). These at grade crossings are located at: Harris Avenue, 6th Street providing access to the Fairhaven Public Boat Launch, Bayview Drive, Pine and Wharf Streets, Cornwall Avenue, Central Avenue, C and F Streets. Crossings over Bellingham Bay are: Chuckanut Bay Causeway, lagoon crossings at Madrona Point, Edgemoor, Post Point, Padden Creek Estuary, Roeder Avenue Bridge.
Therefore, please require the applicants to analyze the suitability of these crossings in relation to the increase in the number, length, frequency, duration and weight resulting from up to 18 additional dry-bulk commodity trains (including coal) that are expected to pass through these at grade crossings per day.
Negative impacts to planned City projects. Negative impacts to several projects specified on the City's adopted six-year Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for 2013-2018 (project numbers indicated below indicate number on TIP) have not been designed nor analyzed to interface with up to 18 additional freight train trips per day at the time of full build-out of the GPT. The expected impacts are not solely a result of the number of trains but also their length, frequency, duration and weight. These projects are seriously undermined and threatened by this additional and unplanned increase in impacts. Specifically, these projects are:
Project #11: Boulevard Park to Cornwall Avenue Overwater Pedestrian Walkway. The increase in number, frequency, volume and length of dry-bulk commodity (including coal) trains serving the GPT will negatively impact both the general public's ability to access the walkway itself by vehicle at the Boulevard Park entrance on Bayview Drive, as well as the demand for use of the walkway due to increase in noise and air quality impacts. The City expects that the project will cost a total of approximately eight million dollars. Approximately $660,000 has been spent to date.
Therefore, please require the applicant to analyze the negative impacts to this project in terms of air quality, odor, aesthetics, recreation, scenic resources and transportation systems pursuant to WAC 197-11-444.
Project #12 (12a - 12c): Waterfront District Multimodal Improvements. The planned connections from downtown and existing streets to the Waterfront District may also be significantly impacted by the increase in dry-bulk commodity trains as specified above. (The proposed Waterfront District Sub-Area Plan is scheduled for legislative review this spring.) While contemplation of relocating the BNSF tracks was included as part of the Sub-Area Plan the number, length, frequency, duration and weight of the proposed trains associated with the GPT were not.
These multimodal connections interface with the BNSF railway at the intersections of Roeder, Central and Granary Avenues (12a; Granary - Bloedel) and Cornwall Avenue and Log Pond Drive (12b; Bloedel to Cornwall). Project 12c is a new arterial loop that does not interface with the BNSF railroad infrastructure, but is designed and intends to facilitate, improved function for projects 12a and 12b. Additional crossings at Cornwall Avenue and Oak Street, if BNSF track is NOT relocated, and Commercial Street, via a new bridge into the Waterfront District, would also be negatively impacted.
Therefore, please require the applicant to analyze the impacts to these planned improvements pursuant to WAC 197-11-444, specifically focusing on the six elements relating to transportation.
Project #17: Chestnut-Bay Bridge Rehabilitation. This project is intended to upgrade the existing bridge which is currently weight limited. However, this rehabilitation project does not include additional rehabilitation and structural improvements that may be necessary due to a significant increase in the number, more frequent, heavier and longer freight train trips.
Therefore, please require the applicant to analyze the structural integrity of this bridge in relation to the increase in the number, length, frequency, duration and weight of dry-bulk commodity trains (including coal) and the structural capability of the bridge to handle the new significant impact.
The Greenhouse Gas Inventory and Climate Protection Action Plan, adopted by the City in May, 2007. In May of 2007 the City adopted the Greenhouse Gas Inventory and Climate Protection Action Plan. This plan focuses on City operations and how greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced. Phase I includes an inventory of our emissions and Phase II includes the action plan. The increase in number, length, frequency, duration and weight of up to 18 additional dry-bulk commodity trains negatively affects Action Plan Item #15 which is to "reduce idling time." City vehicles which must idle while waiting for trains to pass at- grade crossings actually increases idling times.
Please analyze the impacts to achieving this element of our Climate Action Plan as a result of increased gate down times at six at grade crossing locations; Harris Avenue, Bayview Drive, Wharf and Pine Streets, Cornwall Avenue, Central and Roeder Avenues and F Street and Roeder Avenue.
2. Significant unavoidable adverse impacts to the City as a result of a significant increase in the number, length, frequency, duration and weight of dry-bulk commodity freight trains (including coal) travelling through the City and its Urban Growth Area include:
Harm and threat to the lives, safety and welfare of City citizens as well as the environment in which they live, resulting from freight train derailments, collisions and spills. Derailments, collisions and spills can destroy the areas in which they occur. Areas beyond the immediate site are also threatened from these events as is the case with tracks over or adjacent to Bellingham Bay and its pocket estuaries. A derailment, collision and/or spill or any combination of these events would result in immeasurable harm and significant impacts to aquatic ecosystems and to the air we breathe.
Furthermore, derailments, collisions and spills can damage or compromise vital existing infrastructure such as underground gas lines, City sewer and water mains and electricity substations. Cascade Natural Gas ("CNG") has transmission and distribution lines that run parallel to and intersect sections of BNSF infrastructure. A 16-inch CNG main begins at the BNSF crossing at Cornwall Avenue and travels along a potential corridor of to-be-relocated track along the base of the bluff. This 16-inch main transitions to a 12-inch main and runs from between Commercial and Bay Streets to Army Street and again from C Street to Bellwether Way along and parallel to the BNSF mainline track. Encogen and Puget Sound Energy have significant electricity and other supporting infrastructure near the existing mainline track. Destruction or disruption to any of these vital services resulting from a derailment, collision or spill would cause significant unavoidable adverse impacts to life, safety and welfare of the general public.
The City has water and sewer mains and trunk lines that cross underneath BNSF infrastructure in several locations and run parallel to in others. Sewer main pipe sizes range from 24 inches up to 60 inches in diameter. Water mains range from 8 inches up to as much as 30 inches in diameter. Collisions or derailments in locations where these mains exist would cause significant unavoidable impacts to the City's ability to provide vital water and sewer services to its citizens and numerous commercial and industrial establishments.
These significant impacts are in addition to those that would manifest themselves if a derailment, collision or spill occurred on mainline tracks that are abutting or traveling over Bellingham Bay and/or its pocket estuaries.
Congestion, stacking/queuing, frequency and duration of multiple freight trains that are obstructed or 'backed up' by slides, debris, flooding and other unforeseen events at locations south of Bellingham and specifically between Bow and the Custer Spur. It is extremely difficult to predict when mud and debris slides across tracks will occur which would cause trains to be delayed and stacked until the blockage is cleared or cause a derailment, collision and/or spill. AMTRAK customers frequently get on and off Greyhound busses forced into service during the winter months at the Fairhaven Station in place of passenger trains when these slides, debris flows or flooding 'events' occur. The City expects this trend to continue, particularly in light of the effects of climate change and the resultant increase in precipitation in the City's general geographic area. In addition to derailments, collisions and spills, the City also expects the unavoidable significant impact and likelihood of multiple freight trains traveling through Bellingham in succession with minimal delays between them to result in (1) serious threats to emergency service providers: (2) congestion at waterfront intersections; (3) delays in movement of non-rail goods and services utilizing designated truck routes and arterials; and (4) increased noise and impacts to air quality.
Destruction of marine near-shore environments and other critical areas such as pocket estuaries and landslide hazard areas resulting from the development of new railroad infrastructure such as a new railroad siding in order to accommodate up to 18 additional dry-bulk commodity trains (including coal) per day on the Bellingham Subdivision Mainline. Various studies have concluded that there is an existing bottleneck or "chokepoint" on the Bellingham Subdivision Mainline between Bow and the Custer Spur. These studies also conclude that one likely location for a new siding to handle an increase in freight train traffic (in order to maintain existing freight and passenger train capacity and efficiency) would be parallel to and water-ward of the existing mainline between, roughly, Harris Avenue and the foot of Cornwall Avenue within Bellingham City limits. Such a siding would not only destroy existing marine near-shore environments, but would also undermine and nullify planned necessary shoreline restoration efforts at Padden Creek Estuary, Boulevard Park, the historic Cornwall Avenue Landfill and portions of the Whatcom Waterway.
3. Please consider and analyze as specified the following reasonable alternatives to the proposed project as part of the Environmental Impact Statement process:
The No Action alternative.
Development of only the west loop as well as loading and berthing / wharf infrastructure for up to one cape size vessel.
Development of the original proposal permitted via SHS92-20 and MDP92-3 provided that the items specified within the 1999 settlement agreement have been completed to the satisfaction of the DOE, WDFW and the Washington Environmental Council.
As an alternative to negatively impacting the nine at grade crossings (vehicle and multi-modal) within the City please consider the following combinations of at grade closures and construction of new grade separated crossings; at grade closures of Pine / Wharf Streets, Central Avenue and/or C Street in tandem with construction of new grade separated crossings: Commercial Street Bridge (down to Waterfront District) and a new Cornwall Avenue Bridge at the time the BNSF tracks are relocated to the east at the base of the bluff.
As an alternative to negatively impacting existing available capacity on the Bellingham Subdivision Mainline for freight and passenger service please consider the development of a new railroad siding in a minimum of two locations between Mount Vernon and the Custer Spur.
The capability of the existing BNSF rail line running parallel to Highway 9 from north of Mount Vernon north to Sumas in terms of capacity, structural integrity and overall suitability for potentially accepting some increases in freight train traffic. Potentially, the train traffic on this corridor could be limited to freight destined for Canada in order to free up the Bellingham Subdivison Mainline for GPT generated trains. The City recognizes that residents and businesses on this rural alignment as well as those within Whatcom County's smaller cities may be adverse to this type of analysis and that any necessary or required upgrades and improvements may also have associated negative impacts.
4. Please consider requiring the following mitigation measures on the subject proposal:
Covering coal in each rail car with appropriate material or structure that minimizes dust and particulate from leaving the car while underway as well as from leaching of rainwater.
Enclosing entire coal handling area with weather protective structure(s) or building(s) to minimize dust and particulate from coal stockpile areas being broadcast to abutting properties and onto onsite wetlands and the marine environment.
Developing and installing wind-walls around the entire coal handling area to minimize dust and particulate from coal stockpile areas being broadcast to abutting properties and onto onsite wetland and the marine environment. The terminal is in the direct and unobstructed path of the prevailing winds, which are from the southwest, as well as those common winter winds originating in the Fraser River Valley.
Establishing railroad "quiet zones" within Bellingham's city limits.
Installing sound walls at selected locations within Bellingham's city limits.
Specify the mitigation/handling requirements imposed by BNSF for the transport of coal.
Specify the mitigation / handling / protocol / response requirements imposed by BNSF in the event of a derailment, collision or spill of any freight train.
Please specify the mitigation / response measures that are employed in the event of a marine vessel spill, collision or other accident that is associated with importing or exporting any commodity from the GPT.
Please establish air quality thresholds for coal dust at a minimum of two locations at the upland terminal handling area, at the wharf and a minimum of three locations within Bellingham's city limits and require quarterly air quality reports at these locations.
Pursuant to NEPA the following scoping comments are intended to:
1. Request that additional information be provided;
2. Affect the applicant's Purpose and Need Statement; and
3. Request an indirect effects analysis under NEPA.
1. The City requests that the data, reports, analyses, studies or methodologies that were conducted by BNSF and/or SSA Marine or any of their subcontractors, in which it was concluded that all the new infrastructure at the Custer Spur is necessary in order to "safely and sufficiently handle the potential volume and length of trains without impacting operations on the Cherry Point Subdivision Mainline or the Bellingham Subdivison Mainline" be made available to the Co-Lead Agencies prior to their establishment of a range of reasonable alternatives. The City is unaware of how improvements made on the Custer Spur would alleviate known "chokepoints" on the Bellingham Subdivision Mainline between Bow and the Custer Spur.
2. Purpose and Need Statement.
The Purpose and Need Statement ("PNS") is not 'finalized' until scoping is concluded. As you are aware, the Purpose and Need Statement is utilized by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (COE) to define the scope of the project and identify a reasonable range of alternatives which must be "rigorously explored and objectively evaluated." The City acknowledges that the Co-Lead Agencies overall objective is to streamline and merge the SEPA and NEPA processes. However, under NEPA, the Purpose and Need Statement, in its final form, places additional emphasis on the alternatives to be considered.
The City recognizes that the PNS includes two distinct projects as well as two distinct applicants. To summarize, one project is proposed by SSA Marine, which intends to "develop and successfully operate a multimodal marine terminal that includes upland facilities, loading trestle and a deep draft wharf for import and export of dry-bulk commodities to meet international and domestic demand."(See applicant's PNS.)
The other project is proposed by BNSF which intends to make improvements and modifications along the Cherry Point Subdivision Mainline (aka Custer Spur) to facilitate the increase in train traffic. In fact, the actual language describing the Custer Spur proposal states, "Improvements to the BNSF Cherry Point Subdivision Mainline (Custer Spur) are necessary to accommodate the number, length, and weight of trains, as well as to safely and efficiently provide rail services for the existing facilities in the Cherry Point Industrial Area and the proposed GPT facility. Current capacity is insufficient to efficiently and safely handle the potential volume and length of trains without impacting operations on the Cherry Point Subdivision Mainline or the Bellingham Sub-divison Mainline." (See applicant's PNS. Italics and underling added for emphasis.)
The City cannot reconcile nor understand why the Custer Spur proposal is included in the PNS for the reasons stated above without also acknowledging and addressing other known infrastructure deficiencies on the Bellingham Subdivision mainline. Rail studies performed by the Washington State Department of Transportation and others, as far back as 2006, and as recently as 2011, have concluded that existing BNSF railroad infrastructure allows operation of existing freight and passenger services to operate at or near capacity. Studies also conclude that chokepoints already exist on the Bellingham Subdivision Mainline between Bow and the Custer Spur. These studies did not take into account the phased increase of up to 18 additional dry-bulk commodity trains per day on the Bellingham Sub-division at full build out of the GPT.
The City requests that the PNS be revised to include future development of BNSF railroad infrastructure (beyond those BNSF proposed improvements along the Custer Spur) anywhere within Whatcom County in order to address the chokepoint and capacity deficiencies specified above.
3. Indirect Effects Analysis
Indirect effects are those effects that “. . . are caused by the action and are later in time and farther removed in distance, but are still reasonably foreseeable” (40 C.F.R. 1508.8). These are different than "direct effects" which are caused by the action and occur at the same time and place. For example, there is a direct effect of building the upland terminal facilities on wetlands, i.e. wetland fill. Indirect effects are also different than "cumulative impacts," which are those impacts on the environment which result from the incremental impact of the action if added to other past, present and reasonably foreseeable future actions, regardless of who undertakes the actions. For example, there is an expected cumulative impact on rail capacity, air quality, etc. when added with the number of freight trains hauling coal to other dry-bulk commodity terminals proposed within Washington and Oregon States.
Many cities between the origin of the coal and GPT, especially those with larger populations, will be negatively impacted by the increase in freight trains over time as the GPT approaches full build-out. Full build-out is projected to occur in 2026, or, an estimated ten years after the GPT is built. Projected export of coal to Asia will begin at 25 million metric tons per year and increase up to approximately 48 million metric tons per year over that ten year period. The number of trains (delivering and then returning) will start at 10 per day and increase to up to 18. If the GPT is built, impacts on municipalities between the Powder River Basin and GPT continue and increase up to and beyond the 10-year full build out date.
These estimates and projections are specifically listed in Table 4.5 of the Revised Project Information Document from March 2012 as submitted by the applicant as part of its project application. These indirect effects ARE reasonable and foreseeable because the applicant states it directly in its application.
Municipalities vary in size and are in various stages of land use and transportation planning. It is unclear to many of the municipalities along the rail corridor exactly how adversely they will be affected by the increase in freight trains resulting from this specific proposal. Municipalities within the Puget Sound region have ports and important transportation hubs (such as the Washington State Ferries) that may be negatively impacted by the increase in freight trains well into the future.
The City of Bellingham's Planning Commission is about to commence review of the Waterfront District Sub-Area Plan. This project presents a rare opportunity for the City to reclaim and renew its downtown central waterfront that for decades was a pulp mill. However, the Waterfront District is separated from the downtown core by the BNSF mainline and the City is concerned about the adverse impacts that may result from the GPT.
While it is true that coal leaving the Powder River Basin (as well as other mines) may go to a handful of different terminals in Oregon and Washington, those terminals all have limited capacities. The GPT is expected to be the largest of the proposed terminals. With the exception of the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminal, which is proposed to be slightly smaller than the GPT, the GPT terminal will export nearly twice the tonnage and require twice the number of freight trains - per year - as any of the other proposed terminals in Washington and Oregon.
An Indirect Effects Analysis is appropriate in this case because the proposed GPT terminal located in the northwest corner of Whatcom County will have effects that are "later in time and farther removed
in distance, but are still reasonably foreseeable.”
The City requests that an Indirect Effects Analysis (as defined in 40 C.F.R. Section 1508.8) be performed to determine the indirect effects resulting from the applicant's projected increase of up to 18 additional dry-bulk commodity freight trains (including coal) that originate from and return to the points of origin where the commodity is mined, extracted or harvested. Specifically, the study area should include incorporated municipalities that may be indirectly affected by the applicant's projected increase in freight trains hauling dry-bulk commodities (including coal) that travel or merge onto the BNSF mainline between the Centralia Junction (where the BNSF and Union Pacific lines merge) and the GPT. The analysis should include a 20-year time period beginning at the time the GPT is operational. The City makes this request pursuant to 40 Code of Federal Regulations; Section 1502.16; Environmental Consequences.
The City of Bellingham appreciates the opportunity to provide this follow up scoping letter and we look forward to having these comments reflected in the Final Scoping Document and carried forward into the EIS process.
Kelli Linville, Mayor
City of Bellingham
Seth Fleetwood, President
Bellingham City Council