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Originally published Thursday, December 13, 2012 at 3:46 PM

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Protests precede hearing on coal export terminal

Hundreds of supporters and opponents of a plan to ship coal through Seattle gathered prior to a public hearing.

The Associated Press

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SEATTLE —

Hundreds of supporters and opponents of a plan to ship coal through Seattle gathered prior to a public hearing.

Thursday's Seattle hearing follows six other public meetings held throughout the state concerning a possible coal export terminal near Ferndale.

Those opposed to the idea staged an outdoor protest at a park near the Washington State Convention Center. Among the worries are coal's contribution to global warming and the potential impact to the Puget Sound's ecosystem.

Labor unions representing construction trades gathered at the Convention Center in green shirts. They say coal shipments will require expanded port facilities, which will boost jobs in the region.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

After six hearings around Washington on a proposed coal export terminal near Ferndale, supporters and opponents already know their lines for Thursday's final meeting, which has been moved to the state convention center because it can accommodate 3,500 people.

About 650 people attended a Wednesday night hearing in Vancouver and hundreds more attended recent meetings in Spokane, Ferndale, Bellingham, Mount Vernon and Friday Harbor.

The prospect of long coal trains rolling through Seattle's downtown waterfront is not welcomed by Mayor Mike McGinn. He announced Wednesday the city would commission a study of the local traffic and safety impacts of an estimated 18 coal trains a day.

Opponents scheduled a rally at Freeway Park near the convention center before Thursday's meeting.

King County labor and business leaders also scheduled a news conference before the meeting.

Both sides have rallied followers to attend meetings - supporters in green shirts, opponents in red shirts.

Color was nearly the only way some people could express themselves at the Vancouver hearing at Clark College where applause and booing were not allowed. The crowd could raise hands in approval or give a thumbs-down gesture to a limited number of speakers who were selected by a drawing, The Columbian (http://bit.ly/SWLSoC) reported.

The arguments are familiar by now: Supporters see coal trains bringing jobs, an economic boost and tax revenues. Opponents see train congestion, coal dust and environmental risk.

The $600 million Gateway Pacific Project proposed by SSA Marine of Seattle at Cherry Point is the largest of five proposed terminals in Washington and Oregon to ship coal from Montana and Wyoming to power plants in Asia. The terminal could handle up to 54 million bulk tons a year. It could handle other bulk cargo, such as grain.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington State Department of Ecology and the Whatcom County Council scheduled the hearings to identify issues to be studied. The public comment period remains open through Jan. 21, and then an environmental impact statement will be drafted.

Other coal export ports are under consideration at Longview and in Oregon at Coos Bay, Port of Morrow and St. Helens. A proposal at Grays Harbor, Wash., has been shelved.

"Have you experienced what coal dust can do to property? I have," said Vancouver resident Toni Montgomery who lives near a railroad track. She told the Vancouver meeting pollution and train congestion are significant concerns. "It's a dangerous mess," she said.

Locomotive engineer John Lawson of Kennewick spoke in favor of coal exports in Vancouver, The Columbian reported.

"My biggest concern has been the impact on the economy," he said, adding such projects "provide a tax boost to our state" to pay for services.

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Information from: The Columbian, http://www.columbian.com

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