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Island News, Fall 2012

J2 Granny by oil tanker
Many of the readers of our last issue expressed concern over the issues that the island and its residents – both human and otherwise – are facing. We thought we’d give you a brief update.

coal in washington state

Coal Export Terminal: In August, Dr. Claudia Oakes, part-time Adjunct Faculty member in the Department of Sociology, Political Science, Native American Studies, and Environmental Studies at Montana State University, Billings, presented her findings on the issues of the proposed strip mining in Montana, and the transport of the coal through the Pacific Northwest to Asia, to concerned Islanders. Dr. Oakes currently manages an independent environmental consulting practice in Billings, Montana, and is an environmental planner and educator with more than 30 years of professional experience.
From the slide show that Dr. Oakes presented, we learned that there are three proposed new Montana coal mines would be developed in the Powder River Basin area, almost doubling Montana’s coal production by 2022. The Montana Dept. of Commerce would actively work to sell state-owned coal and transport it out of state by train. The hidden cost to citizens near mines and along the transportation routes include hazardous waste, air pollution, water quality impairment, and traffic/infrastructure problems. (Note, at the Signal Peak Mine near Billings, MT, severe poisonous gas and above ground subsidence and water issues have already developed in just 3 years of operation.)
Transporting all this coal across the county would have the greatest impact in Billings, Sandpoint/Spokane, and Stevens Pass-Cascade Tunnel. By 2022 there would be 22 to 63 export trains passing through these areas DAILY, in addition to the already congested train traffic. Each train would be 1.25 to 1.5 miles long, taking 8 – 10 minutes to pass. This would result in 8 or more hours of traffic blockages at each crossing, in addition to a new burden of traffic infrastructure, health and pollution costs: air pollution; noise; accidents; congestion near all rail lines and crossings; delays in commuter traffic and movement of other commodities; delay in response time for police, firefighters and other emergency responders.
coal in washington state
Photo Courtesy of Claudia Oakes
Consider the additional risk of train derailment. Since June of 2012, there have been 3 US coal train derailments:  A 125-car coal train derailed near Pasco WA, spilling 900 tons of coal and polluting acres of ground with coal dust; a 138-car train derailed in IL, burying a couple in their automobile; yet another derailed near Temple TX, sending a cloud of toxic dust into the air that could be seen for miles.
The environmental impact of this increased train traffic is staggering; increased human health and safety risks, pollution from cancer-causing coal dust, increased risk of fuel leakage into critical fisheries habitats; increased risks to the Spokane Valley Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer (a sole source of drinking water for nearly 600,000 people). Then consider the diesel that will be burned for coal trains and cargo ships. It produces toxic and hazardous water and soil contamination.
You can catch the highlights from her presentation, FROM THE MONTANA MINES TO THE SALISH SEA: The Hidden Costs Of Coal Export, here:
coal in washington state
Photo Courtesy of Chris Teren
The impact of exporting all this coal from the proposed terminals in WA, OR and BC would be even far greater, with over 1400 new bulk carrier ships, some the size of the Empire State building, making round trips through the Salish Sea. These massive tankers, twice the size of any currently in the region, have the worst safety records of any commercial marine vessels; they are difficult to maneuver, lack tug escort, and would have to travel the increasingly congested waterways of Rosario and Haro Straits – yes, the same waters where our beloved orcas feed. One accident, one spill, just one leak, could decimate our environment and our economy. You can read more about the proposed terminals here: and about the entire nationwide project here:
Proponents of the plan claim it will benefit the country’s economic activity by creating hundreds of long-terms jobs at the port and several thousand temporary jobs during the construction phase. In a statement on KUOW radio, Craig Cole, a spokesman for the Gateway Pacific Terminal, argues that economic activity anywhere in the country is good for the entire country, and that we should take advantage of any way to fuel jobs and balance trade. “Right now we need to sell whatever we can sell, whether it’s a natural resource based commodity or whether it’s high tech.” For the full article and the accompanying interview with WA Senator Rick Larsen, see the KUOW website.
We feel strongly that this is a short-sighted temporary fix, at the expense of the environment, marine life, public health, and the American taxpayer.
If you love the San Juans, contact your representatives to voice your disapproval of this far-reaching proposal.





orcas in the san juans
Photo Courtesy of Jim Maya





Whales: We’ve got a new baby! First seen on August 6th, J-49 is the first known calf for her young mother, 11-year old J-37 (Hy’Shqa). The new calf brings the J-pod count to 86, and comes from a distinguished line:  J-2 (Granny), who “appeared” in the Free Willy movies, is the great, great grandmother. Though it is unknown at this time whether the calf is male or female, experts estimate the new calf is about six feet and 400 pounds, but it looks tiny compared to the adults.
orcas in the san juans
Photo Courtesy of Tasli Shaw
In this amazing photo of synchronized swimming, the new calf, only about 3 hours old, is protected by Aunt J-40 (Suttles),  Mother J-37 (Hy’Shqa), Grandmother J-14 (Samish) and family friend J-19 (Sachi). If the new calf makes it through the winter, it will receive a name in the summer of 2013 and will become part of the Whale Museum’s Orca Adoption program. To meet the whales and learn more about the program, visit
J49 Keeping Up With Mom, Photo Courtesy of Jeanne Hyde
J49 Keeping Up With Mom, Photo Courtesy of Jeanne Hyde
driftwood forts at american camp
National Historic Parks: The rules have changed for the better at American and English Camps. Locals were bristling at the prohibition of such simple summer fun as flying kites and building driftwood forts; beach combing for shells, rocks and sea glass was also on the NOT ALLOWED list, as was consumption of any alcoholic beverages – no beer with that barbecue.
Thanks to Superintendent Lee Taylor, who seeks to be more “community user-friendly,” those rules were  relaxed in July. Park hours at both locations are extended to 11 pm, and horseback riding at the English Camp Mitchell Hill no longer requires a special permit (though you still need that at American Camp.) So next time you’re at American Camp, you can build a driftwood fort while you’re heating up the grill, decorate it with shells and sea glass, and sip a glass of wine as you watch the sun set. Life is good on the island!  Learn more here…

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