Gateway Pacific Terminal begins environmental review process

The proposed $500 million cargo terminal would be the fourth and final dock in the Cherry Point industrial area, and...

After years of waiting, SSA Marine submitted documents on Feb. 28 to start the lengthy environmental review process for its proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point.

The proposed $500 million cargo terminal would be the fourth and final dock in the Cherry Point industrial area, and it is being designed to move 54 million metric tons per year of bulk commodities such as coal, potash and grains. At peak capacity, coal is expected to make up as much as 48 million tons per year of the total capacity.

“Our submission today represents both extensive preparation and a great deal of work to come,” said SSA Marine Vice President Bob Watters in a statement on Feb. 28. “We are determined to make our Gateway Pacific Terminal a great neighbor in Whatcom County.”

The first part of the environmental review, called scoping, will involve state and federal regulatory agencies determining the scope of environmental issues that will need to be studied before construction permits are awarded.

“We want to identify the impacts and determine our mitigation strategy so we can get our permits by 2012,” Watters said in an interview.

The company anticipates that it will take two years to perform the environmental studies and obtain all the proper permits, then another two years to build the facility, with a target opening date in early 2015.

Concerns have already been raised about two issues: the effect on the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve and the herring that spawn there, and the increase in trains carrying coal through Bellingham and Whatcom County.

The aquatic reserve is overseen by the state Department of Natural Resources, which passed a management plan last year that outlines conservation measures for the area.

“While it sets a very high environmental standard, it shows a way through the regulatory hoops,” said Craig Cole, who is a consultant on the project. So far, there does not appear to be any mitigation requirements that would significantly stall the terminal project, Cole added.

As for the transportation of coal, coal trains already pass through the area, but it is not known precisely how many because the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway does not disclose the amount it transports for its customers, Watters said. At full capacity, though, the cargo terminal is designed to handle up to nine trains a day.

The project has received support from a range of groups, including the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, which would supply much of the union labor for the project; the Washington State Department of Agriculture, which is looking at the terminal as a way to increase grain exports; and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen.

“Exports are a sure-fire way to get our economy moving and grow good jobs in the community,” Larsen said in a press release. “I am pleased to see a Washington-based company making a major private investment in our nation’s export infrastructure. The Gateway Pacific Terminal will make U.S. companies more competitive in the global market and create hundreds of local family wage jobs.”

SSA Marine, now headquartered in Seattle, started in 1949 as Bellingham Stevedoring and has grown to include 125 shipping terminals around the world. The Gateway Pacific Terminal would be its eighth on the West Coast, and the company said it plans to employ approximately 430 people at the facility.

The public will have several opportunities to comment on the project as it moves through the regulatory and permitting processes. The first public comment period will be in late spring 2011 when the scope of environmental issues to be studied is released.

By the numbers
• 1,092 acres that SSA Marine owns, about 1/3 of which will be developed for storage, the rest will be a buffer zone
• 1,100-foot trestle that will carry two conveyor systems for transporting product from storage to the ships
• 2,980-foot wharf that can hold up to three cargo ships
• 65-80-foot-deep water
• 54 million metric tons of commodities per year
• 430 direct jobs, at full capacity
• $11 million per year in tax revenue

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