Opinion: GPT statements are misleading and half-truths

Published on Wed, Jul 17, 2013 by Sandy Robson, Save Birch Bay

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In June, SSA, the company wanting to build and run the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT), ran an ad insert in our local newspapers, entitled “Report to the Community Part 1.” Our group, Save Birch Bay, believes that ad contained many misleading and deceptive statements. 

SSA’s ad says, “All cargo moved over land will be in covered conveyors; material moved over water will be in enclosed conveyors.” We feel this gives the illusion that all coal at the terminal will be covered. The planning document states there will be 2.5 miles of uncovered coal storage piles, up to 62 feet high. So when you’re thinking about covered or enclosed conveyors moving coal, add to that the reality of miles of completely uncovered (exposed to wind and rain) coal storage piles, higher than a six-story building.

SSA’s ad says it’s unlikely that fewer trains will pass through our community if GPT is not built. We believe SSA shrewdly manipulates people’s thinking on this. SSA says Canadian coal terminals are spending $400 million to expand capacity, which is true, but what they don’t say is that those terminals won’t have capacity for U.S. Powder River Basin coal (as reported in a March 20, 2012 article in Coal Age magazine). The article concluded, “Bottom line is while Ridley and Neptune [terminals] are rapidly expanding, a good portion of what throughput space is being created actually won’t be available on the open market. Much of the new capacity is already owned . . . and despite whatever hopes are raised by the prospects of new capacity, most U.S. producers are going to have to keep hoping new west coast ports can finally figure out a way to open up.”

As well, a June 14, 2013 article in energy industry publication Platts confirmed that Ridley Terminal, which is expanding from 12 million tons to 24 million tons, has already sold out its future 24 million-ton capacity. Therefore, there is “no room at the inn” for PRB coal at Canadian terminals.

There are currently three full and three empty coal trains going through our community to Canadian coal terminals. If the proposed Surrey, B.C. coal terminal were built, there would be a potential increase of one full and one empty coal train per day. If GPT were built, then we would definitely see an increase of 18 (nine full and nine empty) coal trains daily at full build-out, on top of the coal trains currently going to Canada. This is the reality, rather than what we believe is the carefully constructed scenario that SSA appears to be using to hoodwink the public on this subject. In their ad, SSA also takes a quote out of context from a local environmental group, giving the impression that if the Surrey coal terminal were built, we would see up to 10 coal trains a day through Washington to Canada. That 10 coal trains a day number was actually referring to the combined total of nine full daily coal trains to GPT, plus the one additional full coal train to the Surrey terminal if both terminals were built.

SSA’s ad says GPT is a multi-cargo handling facility that will handle dry-bulk commodities like coal, grain, potash and wood bio-fuels. The planning document states, however, that for the first 10 years of GPT’s operation only coal, possibly Canadian potash and calcined coke would be handled and exported. Exporting grain is not expected until sometime in the future.

SSA’s ad says, “Tax subsidies being sought: zero.” That may be true of the terminal construction itself, but that will not be the case for needed infrastructure and BNSF rail overpasses, etc., for which the taxpayers will be footing the bill. Rail overpasses are very expensive, ranging anywhere from about $25 million to $70 million, depending on location, etc. Historically, BNSF has only been responsible for 5 percent of those costs (as required by law), so 95 percent of those costs will be borne by taxpayers.

SSA’s ad says, “Number of local jobs generated in region’s economy during construction: 4,430,” and says, “Number of local jobs generated in region’s economy once GPT is fully operational: 1,250.” The official GPT planning document, however, estimates there would be 1,100 direct construction jobs, and it estimates there would be 213 terminal shift workers and 44 terminal administrative staff by year 2026. It also says there would be 66 BNSF railway worker, 107 pilot, tug operator and other marine service worker terminal-related jobs. Even if you were to count SSA’s predicted, but not assured, 1,500 construction and 1,741 “induced and indirect” jobs, the GPT planning document still shows 909 jobs less than what SSA claims in their recent advertisements. 

We believe SSA misleads the public with its advertisements and with information disseminated by its paid consultants and PR firms. If they act like this now when they are courting us, what will they act like if the marriage contract (permit) would be issued?

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