Environmental scoping about to start for Cherry Point terminal

After more than a year of meetings, reports, national news coverage, protests and marketing campaigns, the process to decide what should be included in an environmental impact study for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal is about to begin.

County, state and federal officials are seeking public comment on the scope of an environmental impact statement that Whatcom County, the Washington Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to jointly prepare for the proposed coal and bulk-cargo terminal at Cherry Point.

Pacific International Terminals, a subsidiary of SSA Marine of Seattle, has proposed to build the Gateway Pacific Terminal on the industrial site near Ferndale and Blaine, about 18 miles northwest of Bellingham.

The terminal, located on a 1,200-acre chunk of land near deep water, would initially ship about 25 million metric tons of commodities once constructed. If it reaches full build-out, which SSA Marine would like to see happen by 2026, its output would be about 54 million metric tons.

The Gateway terminal would be among the largest export facilities on the West Coast.

SSA Marine has said the terminal will be used to ship a variety of materials to Asia, including petroleum coke, potash and grain—yet its main commodity, and the one that has raised significant controversy, would be coal shipped from mines in the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming.

Along with the proposed terminal, BNSF Railway Inc. has proposed to install new rail facilities, including a second track along the six-mile Custer Spur.

Proponents of the project have said the terminal will bring jobs and tax revenue to Whatcom County. A report released by SSA Marine in July 2011 found the terminal could create more than 3,500 full-time equivalent jobs during its construction, and more than 850 direct and indirect jobs during its operation.

Yet those job figures have been questioned by groups opposed to the project. Anti-terminal groups have also objected to the environmental degradation of coal use and transport, as well as the negative impact an increase in train traffic could have on Bellingham and in rural areas of Whatcom County.

In the scoping process, Whatcom County and the ecology department must follow the State Environmental Protection Act, or SEPA, while the Army Corps will adhere to the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. A 120-day comment period on the process begins Sept. 24 and ends Jan. 21. 2013.

Through scoping, the agencies will decide what impacts to analyze. Next phases include researching and preparing the draft and final EIS, which may take at least a year to prepare once the scoping process is complete.

The official website, www.eisgatewaypacificwa.gov, provides additional details about the scoping process and meetings, and will display the comments received.  The site’s full set of features will be posted Sept. 24.

Public-meeting schedule

-Bellingham: Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Squalicum High School, 3773 E. McLeod Road
-Friday Harbor: Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012; noon to 3 p.m.; Friday Harbor High School, 45 Blair Ave.
-Mount Vernon: Monday, Nov. 5, 2012; 4 to 7 p.m.; McIntyre Hall, 2501 E. College Way
-Seattle: Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012; 4 to 7 p.m.; North Seattle Community College, 9600 College Way N.
-Ferndale: Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012; 3 to 7 p.m.; Ferndale Events Center, 5715 Barrett Road
-Spokane: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012; 4 to 7 p.m.; Spokane County Fairgrounds, 404 N. Havana St., Spokane Valley
-Vancouver: Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012; 4 to 7 p.m.;  Clark College, Gaiser Student Center, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way

Find more information and submit public comments

-Via the official website established by the three agencies for the EIS process: www.eisgatewaypacificwa.gov.
-By email: comments@eisgatewaypacificwa.gov.
-By mail: GPT/Custer Spur EIS, 1100 112th Ave. NE, Suite 400, Bellevue, WA 98004.

Contact Evan Marczynski at evan@bbjtoday.com or call 360-647-8805. 

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