By Jackie Ward

RICHMOND (KPIX 5) — After months of debate and public comment, the Richmond City Council on Tuesday voted to ban the storing and handling of coal within its city limits.

However, that change may still be a decade away.

The Levin-Richmond Terminal is currently the only facility in the city that handles coal. If Mayor Tom Butt gets his way, it will be out of business within three years.

When Marilyn Tims moved to Point Richmond 25 years ago, there was no so-called coal problem. Times have changed.

“There’s a hill separating us from where the coal is stored. And our windowsill, when you leave the windows open, they’re just covered with black dust,” said Tims. “There’s a black dust on everything.”

She is one of many area residents who will be happy to see coal go, including Richmond Mayor Tom Butt. The mayor says locals shouldn’t get too excited just yet.

“Those people who expect coal to go away are going to be disappointed,” said Mayor Butt. “It could be a long time. It could be a decade.”

After delaying the vote for a month, the city council approved a plan Tuesday night to phase out coal over the next three years.

“Coal is, in terms of both air pollution and greenhouse gasses, it’s one of the worst, if not they worst, fossil fuel around,” said Mayor Butt.

The situation is similar to what happened in Oakland a few years ago when the city banned large coal shipments. But in 2018, a federal judge struck down the ban, clearing the way for a developer to build an export terminal between the Bay Bridge toll plaza and the Port of Oakland.

“I would lump this in to what I call ‘feel good legislation,'” said Mayor Butt. “It really didn’t accomplish anything, but the people who backed it think it’s an incredible victory.”

Levin-Richmond Terminal issued a response after the city council vote.

“We were disappointed with the vote and continue to urge that the City Council to reject the proposal and instead adopt the Planning Commission s unanimous recommendation to get the facts before they vote on the ordinance,” said Levin Richmond Terminal Corp. Vice President Barbara O’Neill.

Despite the threats of lawsuits, Mayor Butt says he remains hopeful that this can be resolved outside of court.