Coal, oil train ban: Ballot consequences ‘are immense’

Spokane radio listeners had the chance Tuesday to learn a little more about a ballot measure that could dramatically alter the future of rail exports in the Inland Northwest.

The measure, known as Proposition 1, would ban rail shipments of coal and oil through the city of Spokane. Rail car carriers would be subject to a $261 fine per car. KXLY 920 Newscope host Mike Fitzsimmons spoke with Better Spokane executive director Michael Cathcart about the proposal and what it might mean for the city.

“Should this succeed, imagine what it might be like for every city or township or municipality to interrupt rail service – even just with respect to the Northwest,” said Fitzsimmons. “I don’t think these folks have a handle on the economic havoc they would wreak.”

Cathcart, who has publicly opposed the proposal, affirmed that there will be economic implications for the city when private investors and businesses look to expand in Spokane. If the measure were ultimately approved by voters, it would also likely subject the city to lawsuits, diverting tax dollars from higher priority issues like fixing potholes and adding more police. Both the city’s policy adviser and the city hearings examiner have advised the council the measure is unenforceable and unconstitutional.

“I think it’s really important folks understand there will be costs involved. I would take it a step further and suggest that since we know it is illegal – hearings examiner and policy adviser ruled it as such – that the city council take it upon themselves to file their own lawsuit. In 2015 when another ballot measure was going forward [Councilman Ben] Stuckart said he was opposed to it and didn’t want to open up the litigation floodgates.”

Cathcart added: “The consequences of this going to ballot are immense — they will have an effect on how the city functions going forward. I think it’s important people understand that when you’re driving down road and see potholes or hear about carjackings – our city council is distracted already – add this to the list, it will impede any fixes that can come from the city council,” he said.

Callers were also skeptical of the measure, voicing concerns about potential lawsuits, costs to taxpayers and the potential for lost federal transportation dollars.

“Who wants to use street tax money – millions of millions of dollars – to defend a case we can’t possibly win? It’s insane these people are even thinking of doing this,” said one caller.

“Seeing the city council do their own climate change ordinance [Monday] night, I think votes should have an option on how to pay for it. Voters should know the significant costs,” said another.

“We benefit significantly from a great deal of federal transportation dollars – many projects in the Spokane area, including the North South Freeway, benefit from federal dollars that could be pulled,” said a third.

Fitzsimmons concluded his interview reiterating his opposition to the measure.