Whatcom County voters appeared to send a message against coal trains in Tuesday’s election.

All four county-council candidates who are believed to oppose a controversial proposed coal-export facility there were leading in competitive council races — including two challengers who looked to be on their way to toppling incumbents.

Challengers Barry Buchanan and Rud Browne took 55 percent and 54 percent of the first votes, respectively. Two incumbents thought to oppose the proposal, Carl Weimer and Ken Mann, were at 57 percent and 56 percent over their opponents.

The council is currently seen as slightly favorable to the facility, so flipping the two seats could make a difference if the proposal comes up in the future.

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The initial returns included more than 41,000 votes.

The election was widely seen as a referendum on the proposal — even though none of the candidates disclosed positions on it, citing the quasi-judicial duties of the council.

Proposal supporters and opponents gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to the elections.

Environmentalists gave to the quartet that won, while coal companies sought to help four others — incumbents Kathy Kershner and Bill Knutzen and challengers Ben Elenbaas and Michelle Luke.