Coal train traffic would impact property values

A new expert report warns that the dramatic increases in coal train traffic from the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal may severely damage property values along the proposed route. Paul Zemtseff, an experienced appraiser and valuation consultant with the Eastman Company, looked at impacts from the coal train traffic to properties within 600 feet of the proposed route in Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, King and Pierce Counties. He concluded that properties near the coal trains would likely experience very significant impacts, including increased traffic congestion, noise, vibration, safety concerns, pollution, and stigma. Single family residences would likely experience the worst impacts, but multi-family, commercial and industrial properties could also face declines in property value.  Single family residences north of Everett, where as many as 18 additional trains are anticipated, could face as much as five to twenty percent decline in value. The report also includes ranges for value loss on the other types of property and those along the route south of Everett.

Although it is impossible to  put a precise number on the potential loss of value for any particular property, the report clearly shows that this is a very significant issue that needs to be closely evaluated in the EIS.  Given the tremendous value of property near the proposed coal train route in Northwest Washington, the report concludes that even a one percent drop in the properties studied would equal approximately $265,000,000 in lost value.  This loss may also translate into lost revenues for the state and local governments as the tax base declines.  Zemtseff also concludes that his analysis is conservative because these impacts are likely to extend beyond those properties that are immediately adjacent and were studied in the report. 

This report isn’t the first to raise these concerns. Eric de Place at Sightline did a post earlier this year summarizing a fascinating study from California, that developed hard information on the links between massive increases in freight trains and property values. Concerns from property owners about the impacts from coal train traffic has been a significant theme in the scoping hearings on the Gateway Pacific proposal.  For example, KOMO News did a story yesterday featuring a property owner who is considering selling her home if coal train traffic increases.

That is why many real estate agents, developers and other experts are speaking out against coal export proposals.  Liz Talley, for example, is a top Windermere Agent and civic activist who is informally known as the “Mayor of Ballard”.  She has been reaching out to other businesses and property owners who share her concerns that the coal train traffic will be cause major impacts to the quality of life and property values in her community. “Coal trains and coal exports are just the wrong path for Washington”, she said. “We are working hard to build a great community with a strong economy and the best quality of life in the world. Coal takes us in the opposite direction. ”

This report was released today at a press event with Washington State Representatives Carlyle, Billig, Lytton, Fitzgibbon, and Morris.  These leaders recognize that coal exports would have major impacts on our economy as well as our environment, and urged the state to do a comprehensive study on these issues. 

Ross Macfarlane's picture
, Climate Solutions

Ross managed Climate Solutions’ Business Partnership Program until spring 2016, helping to build support in the region’s corporate community for strong climate and energy policy and private investment in solutions. He is active in promoting strong climate and energy policy on a state and federal level.  He also led Climate Solutions’ Sustainable Advanced Fuels Program, which is accelerating the adoption of low-carbon alternatives to petroleum fuels in transportation. Ross also led Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest, the first stakeholder roadmap for cleaner fuels to power the next generation of flight. Ross was selected by business and community leaders as a "Pivotal Leader," which recognizes a few individuals who have the skills and experience to drive the region’s clean energy economy.

Ross brings more than 30 years of experience working on public policy and environmental issues. He was a partner at Preston Gates & Ellis (now K&L Gates) where he managed the environmental law practice and represented a wide range of public and private clients. He was recognized as a “Superlawyer” in the areas of Environmental, Transportation and Public law. He also served on the management team for an agency working to build urban mass transit. A Northwest native, Ross is a graduate of Pomona College and University of Washington School of Law. He is passionate about climbing, hiking, skiing, and anything outdoors.