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Chasing the Coal Train

The name of the anonymous company that wants to export six to 10 million tons of dirty coal a year from Coos Bay via trains running through Eugene might be made known at the beginning of April. Public records requests for more information on the secretive proposal have been met with charges of thousands of dollars.

The Sierra Club and local group Beyond Toxics have filed requests under Oregon’s public records law to find out what’s up with “Project Mainstay.” The Sierra Club did a broad request for documents related to the proposal, while Lisa Arkin of Beyond Toxics says her group focused on the rail transport issue on the Coos Bay Rail Link. 

“Our concern is that numerous coal trains, some as much as mile and half long, coming into Eugene, stopping in Eugene, changing tracks in Eugene and leaving would pose a severe health risk not only to the neighborhoods closest to the tracks but to all Eugene,” Arkin says.

She says that it’s estimated each coal car releases a pound of coal dust per mile.

The International Port of Coos Bay assessed the Sierra Club nearly $20,000 in fees to access 2,500 pages of information. It assessed Beyond Toxics almost $22,000. The Sierra Club appealed the decision and the Coos County district attorney partially granted the fee waiver appeal, reducing the fee to a bit over $3,000. 

A Washington state proposal called “Project Platinum” said it was going to export five million tons of coal per year, but documents obtained by a public records requests by the Sierra Club and other groups showed more than 60 million tons was being considered. 

If the International Port of Coos Bay decides to go with “Project Mainstay,” then the name of the company will be made known April 1, at the end of exclusivity period. Or if the deal doesn’t work out, the port could move on to another project — including another coal proposal — and make that project secret. 

Arkin says if open trainloads of coal go through Eugene it will be a health concern for everyone, but especially children. She says the area already has the highest rate of asthma in the state and nation. “We can’t possibly allow coal trains to come through Eugene and do this to our children.”

“Coal dust goes deep into the lungs, and when you breathe it in, it never comes out,” she says. 

Beyond Toxics is considering entering into a formal appeal along with the Sierra Club, which she says is a big step for the small, rarely litigious group. But seriousness of the health issues associated with coal, including cancer, Arkin says, merits it.