Blaine City Council postponed a decision on whether to get behind a proposed terminal at Cherry Point after some city council members wanted to know more about the project.
In a regularly scheduled council meeting Monday, mayor Bonnie Onyon said SSA Marine, of Seattle, had asked for a council resolution supporting the project. The project, however, has sparked initial concerns among council members regarding its impact on air and water quality.
The $400 million project is proposed for the end of Gulf Road, south of the BP Cherry Point Refinery, and could be used for grain, coal, potash and other materials.
Project officials said they expect to break ground by the end of 2012 and that it could be fully-functioning by 2017.
Onyon called it a “hugely important economic boon for this area” and said the speculated environmental impacts were “way overblown.”
Other council members such as Harry Robinson, however, said they wanted to know more information about its potential environmental impacts before making a decision.
“I’m reluctant to get behind something I don’t know a lot about,” Robinson said.
Council member John Liebert disagreed. Liebert said Semiahmoo also faced considerable opposition in its initial development but that it has come to benefit the city in the long-term.
“I’m willing to say 90 percent of the community questioned them,” he said. “And now I am amazed at how it has enhanced our community. There might be some downsides to this project, but we have to look at the big picture.”
Newly-elected Alan Black said the city had received e-mails concerning possible environmental impacts of the project but that those issues had not yet been discussed. “Those e-mails contain legitimate issues,” he said. “And I don’t see a link between a housing development and a coal port – you’re talking about two different things.”
Matt Krogh of the environmental group RE Sources, said the area at Cherry Point has been subject to a number of dock proposals over the years but that SSA has a long history. Krogh said the company first applied for a permit in 1996 but the project didn’t make it past the SEPA review process after it was appealed by five environmental groups and two state agencies. As a result, the company entered into a settlement agreement which has taken them 11 years to move forward with.
“They spent 11 years not doing those environmental studies,” he said. “Now you see this heavy-handed outreach to politicians to ram things through. And they just got a bunch of new money from Goldman Sachs, which just purchased half of the company. They owe Warren Buffett $5 billion, and Warren Buffett wants to export coal.”
Krogh added although the project is being marketed as a pro-jobs, pro-tax revenue one, it could actually cost taxpayers more in infrastructure improvements. Western Washington is already looking to receive $131 million in federal tax dollars to make at-grade rail crossing improvements in this corridor, he said.
“The reality is they’re getting subsidized by our tax dollars if they go ahead with this,” he said. “There will be some jobs but there will be impacts, and communities need to weigh those carefully.”
The council voted to postpone their vote until they could schedule a presentation with SSA Marine officials. No meeting date has been set, but Tomsic said they are aiming for their February 28 meeting.