SPOKANE, Wash. - Will coal be allowed on rail lines through Spokane? That's the topic being debated Tuesday night at the Spokane County Fairgrounds.
The Department of Ecology is taking comment from both sides on this contentious subject. At issue: Coal from Montana and Wyoming needs to be transported to the west side of the state and eventually to Asia.
Some say 60 more trains will be moving through the area every day, while others say that number is more like six per day. Both opponents and proponents are crying foul. Opponents say the coal would give off dust, creating health problems.
"All the coal dust that gets lost off those trains is settling down into the downtown corridor," Michael Beasley, who's against the coal trains, said.
They also worry increased train traffic will slow down car traffic.Coal Train Hearing
"Two or three trains a day is one thing. Trains that are a mile and a half long, coming three every hour, that's a whole different story," Beasley added.
Proponents of the new terminals, on the other hand, say those numbers are inflated.
"We're hoping to puncture some of the myths about the exaggerations we hear about the project," Lauri Hennessey, with the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, said.
They also say the coal would be sprayed with a substance to reduce dust and that approximately 11,000 jobs would be created in the Pacific Northwest.
"Plus untold other jobs around the region that will come from the growth the terminals would bring. There's also millions of dollars in tax revenue that would happen in the communities where it's really needed," Hennessey said.
The arguments were overshadowed Tuesday morning by accusations of who was waiting in line for the public hearing. The first 75 people in line get to speak at the hearing, and about half of those in line, were paid to hold spots for speakers in support of the project
"This is politics. This is the big corporate players, and this is how they play, it's a hard ball game," Beasley said.
The pro-coal train side admits they paid for placeholders, but for good reason.
"People who believe in our projects include the sheriff here in Spokane. He's not going to go stand in line from 11 or 12 on. He's going to speak. Those people in line are not speaking, they're holding spots. The environmental community also has people holding spots," Hennessey explained.
Those against the project said at a Spokane city council meeting earlier this year, 95-percent of the people speaking were against it, so Tuesday night's public hearing won't be representative of all sides of this issue.