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Seattle Mayor’s Coal Economics Study Released

Aug. 20, 2013 | KUOW
CONTRIBUTED BY:
Ashley Ahearn


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  • The city of Seattle. A new report issued by the mayor's office says potential benefits of moving coal through the city en route to an export terminal near Bellingham are relatively few and low to Seattle, given the pass-through nature of coal trains. credit: Don Wilson/Port of Seattle
The city of Seattle. A new report issued by the mayor's office says potential benefits of moving coal through the city en route to an export terminal near Bellingham are relatively few and low to Seattle, given the pass-through nature of coal trains. | credit: Don Wilson/Port of Seattle | rollover image for more

The results of an economic analysis of coal export impacts on Seattle have just been released, more than a month after they were handed over to Mayor Mike McGinn, who commissioned the report.

The report, titled City of Seattle Economic Analysis of Proposed Coal Train Operations, cost $25,000. It was completed by Community Attributes and delivered to the mayor’s office on July 10.

But McGinn did not release the report to the public until The Seattle Times filed a public records request. Then the mayor posted the study to his blog on Friday afternoon, within 9 minutes of giving a copy of the report to The Seattle Times.

When asked about the delay on the July 10 report, McGinn told EarthFix and KUOW, “That wasn’t the final because my staff and others provided comments to them and they made substantial revisions after that.”

Chris Mefford, president of Community Attributes, said that the firm sent what it had hoped would be a final draft on July 10 “but with all our clients there’s the opportunity to make any refinements and catch any blemishes. I think the overall time frame is in alignment for everything we do for all our clients. There was no undue delay.”

Proponents of the Gateway Pacific Terminal, which is proposed to be built near Bellingham, Wash., said the mayor withheld the report because it did not highlight the negative economic impacts of moving up to 18 trains of coal through the city of Seattle every day.

On the other hand, the report does not paint a rosy economic picture for Seattle should the Gateway Pacific Terminal be built.

“The analysis demonstrates that the potential benefits are relatively few and low to Seattle, as would be expected given the pass-through nature of coal trains in Seattle,” the report says.

Here are some highlights:

  • Seattle-based SSA Marine, the company that would build the terminal, expects to hire 12 full-time employees to manage the project, with estimated total reimbursements of around $2.4 million per year. Once construction is complete that number would go down to five.

  • BNSF Railway, which would transport the coal overland to the port, does not estimate an increase in employment in Seattle.

  • Rail congestion could cost motorists and their employers between $384,000 and $455,000 per year for travel time and lost productivity.

  • Property values could decrease by between $270 million and $475 million among commercial, residential and industrial properties within 600 feet of the BNSF mainline, citywide. That could mean diminutions of between 5 percent and 15 percent for Seattle properties, with the largest relative losses projected for single-family homes.

  • The Seattle Fire Department may need to spend up to $150,000 for a new dispatching system to negotiate increased surface traffic. The department’s SODO Station 14 may need to be relocated all together, with a potential cost of $9.5 million, plus the cost of the land.

The report’s authors said the goal was to present “an objective representation of stakeholders’ perspectives, among those stakeholders scoped for interviews and research, and whose perspectives Seattle leaders requested to capture in this study.”

The report also gathered comments from the Port of Seattle and businesses along the downtown waterfront.

The Port was neutral on the impacts of coal traffic, saying that it does not anticipate any direct increase in employment due to coal trains and it expects that existing and soon-to-be-complete projects will mitigate the impacts of coal train-induced congestion on port operations.

Edgewater Hotel, a well-known and longstanding business on the Seattle waterfront, has seen a decline in business, which it attributes largely to disruptive train noise (the hotel provides complimentary earplugs for city-side rooms).

The report did not assess the costs of human health impacts or environmental impacts related to the burning of fossil fuels. Sightline Institute, an environmental think tank based in Seattle, released a review of the report in conjunction with the mayor’s delayed release, which said the report underestimated the traffic congestion costs, fire department relocation costs, decrease in Seattle property value and environmental and human health costs.

© 2013 KUOW
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