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Sumner Council Nixes Resolution Opposing Impact from Increased Coal Transportation

Opposing members stated a desire to follow the current environmental impact statement scoping process to minimize damage to city authority, while supporters said it was also a way to back up state and federal elected officials.

A resolution for the city of Sumner to oppose the impacts of increased rail traffic brought about by a proposed increase in coal transportation through the city failed 3-4 during the regular meeting of the City Council Monday night.

Councilmembers Nancy Dumas, Randy Hynek and Curt Brown voted in support of the resolution.

Drafted by Dumas, the resolution stated opposition to the increased rail traffic as well as concern for traffic, health and environmental impacts that could result with two proposed coal transportation projects: Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) and Millenium Bulk Terminal (MBT).

The GPT proposal is moving into the start of the environmental impact statement (EIS) phase where various agencies, including the city of Sumner, had between September 2012 and January 2013 weighed in on what the EIS should analyze. Sumner's scoping letter, outlining concerns for overall impact as well as health, social and economic effects, was issued to the lead agency on Jan. 18.

This scoping letter and the EIS work was why Councilmembers Steve Allsop and Mike LeMaster said they opposed this resolution because they didn't want to venture out of bounds of existing process. Allsop advocated relying on the work already done by city staff which was "comprehensive and significant." Pursuing a separate resolution "dilutes our power on this issue," he said. "This is out of process and it will make us look like amateurs, and I don't want to do that."

Hynek countered there was a legitimate need for the resolution so cities like Sumner could make known the issues raised by the coal transport proposals through multiple fronts, which includes the EIS. "There's nothing wrong with this," he said. "We need to let our elected officials know this is important. ... just going one route is not complete."

Hynek further suggested that those who opposed the resolution were "afraid you're going to upset corporate interests."

Community Development Director Paul Rogerson recommended that the resolution wasn't a good step though the language of the resolution was an improvement over an earlier draft. Though other cities may have issued similar resolutions, he said, they "did it before the scoping process had completed itself. ... that's not the case today. It makes us look like we're not coordinated between our left hand and right hand."

Dumas acknowledged the city was slower to act regarding the GPT but pointed out it would be far ahead regarding the second proposal to connect to Longview (MBT) - hence the dual purpose resolution. She also shared the resolution would show appreciation for state and federal elected officials including Rep. Suzan DelBene, Rep. Adam Smith and Sen. Maria Cantwell for their support of local communities in the matter.

Regardless of the back and forth, city resident Stacy Carkonen told the Council she was pleased that the issue was being discussed. While she didn't support the increased coal transport personally, "We're really ahead of the game compared to a lot of cities, and I'm proud of that," she said. "We're talking about this before the impact statement comes out."

Read More: The city of Sumner has prepared an issues page on its website outlining the history and issues surrounding coal trains. You can also see the scoping letter as well as a timeline of city actions at http://www.ci.sumner.wa.us/Issues_Coal.htm.

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