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A proposal to ship coal through Seattle by rail drew hundreds of opponents and supporters to downtown on Thursday, as both sides prepared for a public hearing on the matter scheduled to kick off at 4 p.m. at the Seattle Convention Center.

Several hundred opponents, many wearing red t-shirts, staged an outdoor protest at Freeway Park near the Convention Center, voicing concerns about coal's contribution to global warming and the impact to the Puget Sound's ecosystem from a potential coal spill.

Supporters, led by labor unions representing construction trades, gathered at the Convention Center in green shirts. They said coal shipments will require expanded port facilities, which will boost jobs in the region. Representatives of the Association of Washington Businesses also support the shipments.

The plan involves building a new coal terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County, where large cargo ships would be loaded to carry the coal to Asian markets, primarily China. Trains hauling coal from Montana and Wyoming would pass through Seattle and other Puget Sound communities before reaching Cherry Point.

King County Executive Dow Constantine spoke to opponents, saying he opposed shipping up to 18 trainloads of coal through the city, which he called the county's jewel.

Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen spoke to supporters, saying the coal shipments can be done in an environmentally sound manner.

A representative of the Tulalip Tribe told opponents that the coal shipments would interfere with sacred grounds and would violate the government's treaty obligations with the sovereign tribe.

Both sides will speak at a public hearing called by local, state and federal agencies charged with completing an environmental impact study. Native American tribal represenatives will be allowed to speak first, but all other speaker slots will be allotted via a lottery -- a recognition of the fact that too many people are attending for all to speak within the three-hours scheduled.

KING 5's Linda Brill contributed.

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