Protester on 20 foot tripod with stopped coal trail at other end of bridge over Chuckanut Bay.
Map view of protest site. Railroad crosses the north end of Chuckanut Bay on a stone rubble causeway. Tripod was setup just before entrance to tunnel.

Coal Trains Blocked by Local Protesters

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Update: Mon, Aug 29, 8:30 a.m.

In this morning's Bellingham Herald, not a single use of the words “coal” or “oil” in their article on the protest. The Herald referred to the stopped train as a “freight” train - twice. It is a coal train, of course. The entire protest was focused on oil and coal. This lack of accuracy - really a lack of honesty - is the result of careful editing by the Herald. Why? This is a common practice of the Herald and daily newspapers everywhere - and always has been. Their article will be cited by other news publications about this event because the Herald is the daily paper where the protest took place. Thus other news outlets in the nation and world will not even know that oil and coal were the issues of this protest. It diminishes the protest to not make sense. Only in the very last sentence, in a quote from Deep Green, is the words “fossil fuels” used, without being specific. Why stop a freight train? Well, so the Herald will continue to receive institutional ads from oil and coal interests as well as favorable news feeds from local government leaders who are in favor of exporting coal and oil from Cherry Point.

One can say that I am speculating on motivation. And I am, but based on many years in the news game and talking with reporters on why their stories got edited to meaningless status. I first started working for a daily newspaper in 1962 as a news photogrpaher accompanying reporters. Over the decades, I've seen first-hand how this works. The Herald editors did not forget to note this was a protest against oil and coal trains and the fossil fuel industry. For decades, the Herald protected Georgia Pacific's toxic polluion on our Bellingham waterfront. It did not exist as far as the Herald was concerned.

Now it is the local oil and coal protests that do not exist. Last year, the Herald decided not to even cover Chiara's protest of hanging from the anchor chain of the Shell Oil ship that was docked in Bellingham on its way to the Arctic oil exploration fields. It was only after the story became too big - and she stayed up there for almost three days - that the Herald was forced to provide some coverage. And the same happened this weekend. On Sunday, the Herald ran a news story about the Saturday mud fun event in the county - complete with video and photos. But not a word on this 11-hour, very effective protest stopping all coal and oil trains up and down Puget Sound. This morning it is a small, dishonest, page two article. The page one story this morning? An article about National Parks by the Associated Press. Nothing local.

Original post: Sunday 5 p.m.

For almost 12 hours this weekend, all trains were blocked at Chuckanut Bay by protesters. From 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon until 3 a.m. Sunday morning, when police removed the last protester, all train movement was stopped. This included the coal train that first stopped on the bridge across Mud Bay on Bellingham's south side, and probably additional coal and oil trains that may have been forced to wait to the south and north. It also included Amtrak service, although protesters said they informed Amtrak of the stoppage so passengers could be bussed.

Basically, as can be seen in the photo, the protester sat in a sling near the top of a metal-legged tripod that was maybe 20 feet high. This made it difficult for law enforcement to bring him down without injuring him.

To clarify, Mud Bay is the name of the small, shallow bay on the north end of, and part of, Chuckanut Bay.

Seattle news has been reporting this, but as of 5 p.m. Sunday the Bellingham Herald has not. You can find more news at KIRO news and KOMO news. There is also more detailed information at the Deep Green news website. Deep Green is taking credit as the organization behind the protest and train blockage.

By 3 a.m. today, Sunday, the tripod had been sawed down and the protester arrested. Some report that several other protest supporters were also arrested. There is also a report that as the tripod was being removed, a second protester set up and more time was required to remove them. As of Sunday, the backlog of trains are streaming through Bellingham.

Update: 8 am Monday

The sign that

About John Servais

Writer • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Tip Johnson

Aug 28, 2016

I wonder who took them into custody?  Is that even in the City Limits?

Tim Paxton

Aug 29, 2016
It was nice and quiet near downtown on Saturday.  I don’t think anyone is going to miss the coal trains.  What did the sign say by the

It was nice and quiet near downtown on Saturday.  I don’t think anyone is going to miss the coal trains.  What did the sign say by the way?

Ralph Schwartz

Aug 29, 2016
John, I don’t buy your conclusion that the Herald referred to the stopped train as a “freight train” in order to keep selling ads to fossil-fuel interests. I can

John, I don’t buy your conclusion that the Herald referred to the stopped train as a “freight train” in order to keep selling ads to fossil-fuel interests. I can report with extreme confidence, having worked in newsrooms for more than a decade, that this sort of careful word selection for the benefit of advertisers just doesn’t happen very often. Any reporter worth his salt wouldn’t put his name on a story with such ad-friendly word play. I’ve had to explain this to people before, but I’ll repeat it here: The Herald doesn’t do a good job of covering events that happen on weekends because they aren’t staffed on weekends. (At least they weren’t when I was there. Since I left in November 2015, the Herald hired a new managing editor. I don’t even know who that person is, but it is conceivable they instituted a “staff the weekends” policy. I highly doubt it.)

Here’s an insider’s take on why the term “freight train” was used. The reporter, Kyle Mittan, never went to the scene of the action to determine for himself what type of train it was. Mittan (don’t know the guy—hired since I left) relied on BNSF for his information. BNSF will not tell you what their trains are carrying. BNSF communications department is a great oxymoron because these people get paid to *not* communicate.

What we have here is some inexperienced reporter getting called in to do a story on a Sunday, and he chose to write something without doing much reporting. The editor—like I said, also new, don’t know them—presumably read it and deemed it adequate. So the only conspiracy here is between a reporter and an editor who schemed to exert minimal effort on what was supposed to be their day off.

The Herald has a hard enough time maintaining credibility in our community of “we-know-better-than-you” players. I don’t like to see accusations of the Herald pandering to advertisers—a grave breach of ethics in the profession—tossed around so blithely. You have no facts to back up your claim.

Respectfully,

-Ralph

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