Labor, industry say majority supports Gateway Pacific Terminal

Supporters of the Gateway Pacific Terminal have been busy in the days leading up to the next environmental “scoping” meeting, set to take place in Ferndale on Thursday, Nov. 29.

A group of Pacific Northwest labor and industry leaders released a new poll of voters in Washington and Oregon that found majority support for the proposed export facility.

On Tuesday morning, Nov. 27, another group of labor, business and civic leaders led by the Northwest Jobs Alliance delivered boxes of petitions they said contained 10,000 signatures from supporters of the project to the office of Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws.

Along with the petitions were statements in support of the project from a number of groups, including Washington Realtors, the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, the Pierce County Central Labor Council, the Washington State Labor Council, the Northwest Washington Building and Construction Trades Council and the city of Ferndale.

The signature delivery was led by Ken Oplinger, president of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Chris Johnson, a local Laborers Union official.

The Gateway terminal, which has been proposed by SSA Marine of Seattle, would ship up to 54 million metric tons of dry bulk commodities on industrial land at Cherry Point, about 18 miles northwest of Bellingham.

Most of the material shipped, at least initially, would be coal mined in the Powder River Basin that spans areas of Montana and Wyoming.

The facility has been a subject of controversy since it was first proposed.

Supporters of its construction have pointed to the jobs and other economic benefits the project could bring, while opponents have raised concerns over negative impacts of a large-scale coal export operation, including clogged rail lines, detriments to public health, as well as coal’s effect on global climate change.

The three lead agencies in charge of completing the terminal’s Environmental Impact Statement—Whatcom County, the Washington State Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—have held a series of public meetings over the past month, accepting comments on how broad the facility’s environmental assessment should be.

The next meeting is scheduled for 3-7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 29, at the Ferndale Events Center, 5715 Barrett Road.

The poll that found majority support for the Gateway terminal was released by Mike Elliott, chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Herb Krohn of the United Transportation Union, John Mohlis of the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council and Randy Russ of the United Transportation Union.

Its results also showed respondents, by a three-to-one margin, felt environmental reviews for proposed coal export facilities in the Pacific Northwest should focus on individual areas impacted by their operations rather than include potential impacts on a broader regional scale, as many opponents of coal terminals would like to see happen.

“Given all the noise being made by export opponents, we thought it was very important for people with a direct stake in this debate—workers, businesses and elected officials—to understand that by a 2:1 ratio, voters in both states support coal exports,” labor leaders wrote in a letter that accompanied the poll results.  “Voters know what we know—new bulk shipping terminals and coal exports will put people back to work, will generate badly needed revenue for government services, and can be developed in an way that is environmentally responsible.”

The Ferndale public meeting is the final meeting scheduled for Whatcom County.

The lead agencies in charge of the environmental review have three additional meetings scheduled: One in Spokane, one in Seattle, and another in Vancouver, Wash.

Public comments on the project, which can be made online, as well as by email or postal mail, will be accepted until Jan. 21, 2013.

For more information on how to submit comments, visit www.eisgatewaypacificwa.gov.

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

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