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.