City delays vote on coal trains
Mayor Kitty Piercy and the council have been asked to hear statements from Port of Coos Bay officials
BY EDWARD RUSSO | The Register-Guard

After hearing from Port of Coos Bay representatives, the Eugene City Council will take more time before deciding whether to try to stop coal trains from moving through the city.

The council had been scheduled to vote Monday evening on a resolution opposing the transport of coal through Eugene, but on Friday Mayor Kitty Piercy asked the council to delay consideration until September. The council could vote on the resolution after hearing from supporters and opponents of coal train shipments, Piercy said.

“This is an important issue and full discussion can only bring the facts to light and benefit us all,” Piercy said Saturday.

Proposed by Southeast Councilor Alan Zelenka, the resolution would have required city officials to explore whether they could use state or federal laws protecting public health to block the transport of coal through the city.

Zelenka and others are worried about coal shipments because the Port of Coos Bay is one of a half dozen ports in Oregon and Washington that are interested in loading coal from Wyoming and Montana for shipment to Asia, where it would be used to produce electricity.

The proposed resolution says coal dust contains toxic mercury, arsenic and lead that would blow from train cars and harm local farms and the health of residents. The export of coal to Asia also would increase greenhouse gases and hasten the adverse effects of global warming, the resolution says.

Piercy said she was contacted last week by officials from the Port of Coos Bay, including Chief Executive Officer David Koch, Chief Commercial Officer Martin Callery, and Reedsport Mayor Keith Tymchuk, who is the chairman of the South Coast Regional Solutions Committee, a job creation advisory group to Gov. John Kitzhaber.

In a Friday e-mail to councilors, Piercy wrote that the officials support the idea of trains transporting coal to Coos Bay and that they asked Eugene officials “provide them with the opportunity to make their best case to us before we make a decision.”

“That seems fair and respectful of intergovermental relations,” she wrote.

After discussing the request with Zelenka, who agreed with the delay, and City Manager Jon Ruiz, Piercy said coastal officials and coal train opponents will speak to councilors on Sept. 10 before they vote on the resolution.

The meeting will take place after the council returns from its six-week summer break, which starts on Thursday.

“We believe this topic really deserves a full and thorough vetting, where facts are presented and considered from all sides,” Piercy said.

The resolution first came up for a discussion and vote last Monday. Zelenka had the support of Councilors Andrea Ortiz, Betty Taylor and George Brown, but Councilors Chris Pryor, Pat Farr and Mike Clark said they needed more time to consider it. Councilor George Poling was absent.

If the council deadlocks on the resolution, Piercy would cast the tie-breaking vote.

Piercy said her willingness to have the panel discussion does not mean she has changed her mind about the resolution, which she supports.

“It is an effort to be fair and responsive to other communities in our state,” Piercy said.

The mayor said she “will listen hard” to the port officials, but that she “cannot think” of how she would support coal trains traveling through Eugene.

“At the national and state level we are doing our utmost to increase our clean energy usage and decrease our dirty energy dependence,” she said. “In our city we have a climate and energy plan that calls for reduced carbon emissions. This coal is bound for Asia, but we live in global society and the effects of our decisions are felt far beyond our borders.”