County sets date for GPT pre-scoping meeting

Published on Wed, Mar 14, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Local government officials have announced the date and time for a public meeting aimed at explaining the environmental review process for the proposed Cherry Point terminal.

In addition to setting the meeting date for March 20, staff from the Whatcom County planning department and Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) have also laid out an approximate timeline for the environmental review process for the $600 million Gateway Pacific Terminal. The terminal project, put forth by Seattle-based shipping terminal company SSA Marine, could handle as much as 54 million tons of coal per year bound for Asian markets from its location at Cherry Point just south of Birch Bay.

At the meeting, Whatcom County and DOE officials will explain the environmental review process for the terminal and answer questions from the audience. The environmental review process will include several opportunities for the public to comment on the project, the first of which being the official scoping hearings.

The terminal will require an extensive environmental impact statement (EIS), detailing the social, economical and environmental effects and present mitigation measures and possible alternatives.

The scoping process for the EIS will gather input on what possible impacts members of the public think should be studied.
The process will get underway this summer, contingent on SSA Marine filing the necessary permit applications for the project. The submittal deadline has already been extended to March 19 from last December.

Once scoping has been completed, county and state officials expect the draft version of the EIS to be completed by mid-2013. The public will also have the chance to comment on this document, and regulators expect this process to begin in late 2013 or early 2014.

County officials are now in the process of selecting a private consulting firm to produce the EIS. Seven firms from across the country have submitted bids for the job.

The chosen firm will study numerous possible terminal impacts, including effects on wetlands in the Cherry Point area, rail and cargo vessel traffic, air quality and human health, just to name a few. The environmental review process for the terminal will involve input from the public, and the agencies overseeing the EIS (the Whatcom County planning department, the DOE and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will require the chosen consultant to schedule public outreach meetings during the EIS process.

Officials from Whatcom County, the DOE and the Corps will require a month or so to review all seven bids. County planning staff have said SSA Marine will only be marginally involved in the consultant selection process.

The March 20 informational meeting will begin at 6 p.m. at Bellingham High School, 2020 Cornwall Avenue in Bellingham. For more information, contact Whatcom County planning supervisor Tyler Schroeder at 360/676-6907, ext. 50202, or at tschroed@co.whatcom.wa.us.