Safeguard the Southfork

Byy On

Jeff Margolis provides this guest piece. He has been Co-Owner of Everybody's Store in VanZandt for over 40 years, and has been deeply involved in the community and politics of the Nooksack River South Fork Valley. This first appeared in the Cascadia Weekly, and appears here with permission of Jeff.


A recent OpEd in the Bellingham Herald tosses off the notion that GPT’s Coal Trains, should they arrive, would spoil the fun at Boulevard Park. It ever so briefly mentioned there could be “inland” impacts outside Bellingham, on the South Fork Valley. As a business person from that seldom seen orphan child of Whatcom County’s political life let me suggest, “plan way ahead, build urban landscape above the tracks, create real estate and keep the train if you must, in Bellingham”. If roof top turf is good enough for New York and Denver, then surprise us with a coalition of Bellingham developers and futurists rejecting a curse upon the county’s farm land. Politics can make for strange bedfellows, but in this case, it makes sense.

Those of us who live “inland”, having helped bring comprehension to the legislature’s infamous “Commerce Corridor” initiative a decade ago, immediately recognized the coal port’s transportation impacts. Our mantra continues to be Safeguard the Southfork. The state’s consultant drew the conclusion that putting endangered species at risk and simultaneously engendering insurmountable debt made the Commerce Corridor infeasible.

This potential corridor has come to be known as the Farmland Route, because it cuts through some of the most productive farm valleys and agricultural communities of Whatcom County. A rail expansion project might conceivably connect the existing eastern route to Cherry Point through and east/west rail proposal from Lynden to Custer. While BNSF says it’s not planning to use the Farmland Route, nothing exists to prevent the route from being used or developed as a coal transportation corridor ir it is not adequately included as part of the Environmental Impact Study.

By now everyone realizes how interruptive a unit coal train is. Traffic safety managers recognize nine strategic rail and highway intersections that would have to be spanned. Highway reconstruction would decimate Acme, Van Zandt, Deming and Nooksack. At least four lanes, nine overpasses and numerous connecting intersections inevitably point to a transformative era for all of us. Back this scenario up through Sedro Woolley, and Burlington where a route to avoid Boulevard Park begins. The irony of course is that the surrender of a myriad of precious sites from Wyoming to Cherry Point, are in the offing. Bellingham needs to look beyond it’s own bailiwick.

In the end the real issue beyond the “Coal Train” is the “Coal Port”. China’s recently pronounced intent to cut carbon emissions by 20% by 2015 does not bode well for GPT. However if public and private motivation remains narrow minded rather than worldly, be assured that railroad resources to the east and north will still be engaged. Imagine your new Whatcom at Canada’s border; a progression of sprouting rail spurs, warehouses, greasy spoons, broken glass in the gutter. It won’t be but a few generations and our region’s bucolic brand will be nothing but a chimera. So remember, when you Safeguard the Southfork you preserve and protect all of Whatcom County.

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Citizen Journalist • Member since Jun 15, 2008

Guest Writer is for over 100 articles by individuals who are not regular writers. Their actual name and brief info is listed at the top or bottom of their articles.

Comments by Readers

Tip Johnson

May 31, 2013

There is yet another potential route I witnessed when I went to close up my dad’s affairs in the Idaho panhandle. 

They have double tracks and ample sidings on a hugely ballasted grade that carries coal unit trains every 50 minutes on average.  These are headed north into Canada and presumable go to the Tsawwassen terminal.

I’m guessing they could also run trains up through Canada in both Montana and Idaho, and then cut down through a new or restored grade through Sumas, Lynden and north Ferndale to Cherry Point.

This would explain why Craig Coal made a point of first seeking the support of north county mayors when it was reported that the trains would be going through Bellingham.


John Servais

May 31, 2013

The northern route via Canada is, I think, very viable.  As is the possible route up the South Fork Valley.  The RRs don’t have to say where the trains will go and verbal assurances are not binding.  I have long thought the Canada route to be the best as one of the Canadian rail systems has excess capacity and the route is reliable.  I wrote an article on this in March 2011.

Indeed, back 20 years ago, the Port of Bellingham was looking into the cross county route.  I noticed a budget item for this and asked the commission about it but I was ignored.  The other agency that probably knows more than they are telling us is COG - the Council of Governments - which serves as a middle and go between for local governments.  Information can be stashed there and never be found through normal public disclosure requests to governments.  Same with the Washington Ports Association, as they are not subject to public disclosure yet work for all the Ports in Washington State. 

The point is, optional routes to Cherry Point are probably being considered and our local elected officials know and are not telling us.


Scott Wicklund

Jun 02, 2013

I think a big part of the RR considerations on routes is the use of Federal Amtrak financing.  Pick a route that does not run Amtrak and it suddenly becomes financially unfeasible…

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