A proposal that would allow millions of tons of coal from Montana and Wyoming in uncovered train cars has some Vancouver, WA residents worried about environmental degradation caused by coal dust.
VANCOUVER, Wash. — Meet Alistair and Winston, two beautiful Old English Sheepdogs that, along with owners Sandy and Erskine Wood, live in Columbia Grove, a gorgeous property located along the banks of the Columbia River. Situated among 200 to 300 year-old Western Red Cedar trees, this ecological wonderland, complete with lush gardens and spring-fed creeks and ponds, is a virtual utopia for two lucky dogs who romp, play, and sniff to their hearts’ content.
But this puppy-paradise could be upended should major coal companies be allowed to transport millions of tons of coal across Western Washington railway tracks like the ones that run next to Columbia Grove. Proposals have been put forth that would allow more than 100 million tons of coal to enter the state of Washington from Montana and Wyoming and make its way to ports along the Puget Sound and Columbia River through the Columbia Gorge. Once there, the coal would be shipped overseas to China and other coal burning countries.
Along the way the train cars carrying the coal lose dust. Lots of it. According to estimates done by BNSF railroad, each train car could lose up to 500 pounds of coal dust during its journey. It’s this dust, which exposes nearby communities to dust inhalation while degrading air and water quality, that most concerns the Woods and others who live along the river.
“We’re already having a huge problem with coal dust,” said Toni Montgomery, who lives just down the street in nearby Steamboat Landing. She and her husband Bill live much closer to the tracks than the Woods. “It’s killing our plants and trees now; I can only imagine what will happen if more coal is allowed come through our community.”
“Is the coal company going to put a bank away for us? For all the damage done to our communities?” Montgomery asks. “I don’t think so.”
So far, Columbia Grove remains pristine. But all that could change with more train traffic and more coal dust.
“Right now,” says Sandy Wood, “we’re far enough away from the tracks that we don’t really see too many effects from the coal trains that pass by. But if train traffic increases, it’s going to start causing damage to our environment.”
And what an incredible environment it is. The Woods have worked tirelessly and passionately to protect the land from environmental destruction since before purchasing the home built by Erskine Wood’s grandparents back from a developer in 2005.
“I remember spending summers here with my grandparents,” recalls Wood as he proudly shows off the grounds. “Not a bad place for a young boy to spend his days, eh?” he says with a wink.
“We were thrilled when we signed the title,” says Sandy Wood. “We celebrated with everyone who worked so hard to protect the property for perpetuity.”
With the help of over 200 people, including Native American and government groups, Columbia Grove was made a “Certified Wildlife Habitat” and “Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary” through the National Wildlife Sanctuary and the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, respectively. It is one of three remaining significant spawning sites for endangered chum salmon on the Columbia River.
“There’s a natural spring across Southeast Evergreen Highway that feeds down through the property into the river,” explains Erskine Wood. “It flows underground and comes out at ground temperature, which the salmon like for spawning. But if the coal dust penetrates into the ground, that desirable water will be filled with toxins.”
Toxins that would not only poison the spawning fish, but the plants, trees, and wildlife that the Woods and their tight-knit community have worked so hard to protect.
For now, as they lap water from a nearby pond and compete for belly scratches from accommodating visitors, Alistair and Winston are content to let their owners worry about the coal trains, while they enjoy their little garden in the sun.
It is, after all, a dog’s life.