SSA Marine submits permit applications for Cherry Point terminal

Published on Wed, Mar 28, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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The $655 million Gateway Pacific Terminal, proposed for the Cherry Point area just south of Birch Bay, can handle 54 million tons per year of dry bulk commodities, such as coal and grain, at full capacity. Artist's rendering courtesy of Whatcom County Planning and Development Services.

The Seattle-based shipping terminal company seeking to build the $655 million Gateway Pacific Terminal has submitted necessary permit applications to Whatcom County regulators, revealing details on the project.

After securing an application deadline extension in December, SSA Marine turned in more than 300 pages of documentation to Whatcom County planning officials on March 19.

The documents detail numerous aspects of the Gateway Pacific Terminal project proposed for the Cherry Point area south of Birch Bay, including information on how the terminal will operate and possible effects on the surrounding community and environment. The permit applications precede a massive environmental impact statement (EIS) for the project, the public input process for which is expected to start this summer.

County planning officials expect to begin preparing the EIS with the help of an independent consultant later this fall. Hearings to garner public input on what should be studied, called the “scope,” will start this summer.

SSA Marine needs at least 15 separate permits and authorizations from county, state and federal regulatory agencies. Bob Watters, SSA Marine senior vice president, said the terminal company is prepared to complete necessary mitigation measures for the variety of environmental impacts the terminal could have.

“We’re going to do whatever the agencies tell us we need to do,” Watters said.

The project has encountered intense public criticism from concerned citizens as far as Seattle, Spokane and other states in the western U.S.

Numerous concerned citizens’ groups have asked for scrutiny of the possible impacts increased rail traffic could have on the health and economic wellbeing of numerous communities along the rail line.

Details in the terminal’s project information document submitted to Whatcom County planning officials include:

• At full buildout, the terminal is expected to handle 54 million tons per year of dry bulk commodities, such as coal and grain. Coal and other industrial products are expected to be the terminal’s main commodities in its first 10 years of operation.

• The terminal will be able to handle up to nine 1.6-mile-long trains per day. Trains will come west across Washington, north through Bellingham and eventually turn west again on yet-to-be-improved rail lines in the Custer area.

• The facility will directly employ 213 full-time shift workers, in addition to 44 administration staff, 66 railroad workers and 107 marine service workers.

• The first stage of construction is expected to start in 2014, and the second stage of construction will be completed in 2017.

• $624 million of the total $665 million project cost is expected to bespent locally with purchases of construction supplies and services.

• SSA Marine estimates the terminal will create 1,250 jobs in the surrounding community per year of construction and bring in $140 million in local payroll and sales taxes.

• The terminal will fill 334 acres of a 1,200-acre site. About 360 acres will be cleared, with 26 acres being restored after construction.

• A total of 1.3 million cubic yards of material will be excavated onsite.

• The project will comprise two rail loops: an 80-acre loop and storage area on the east side of the property and a 17-acre loop and storage area on the west side.

• The uncovered commodity stockpiles at the east loop will be approximately half a mile long and up to six stories high. The east loop will be used primarily to store coal and other industrial materials.

• Approximately 221 transport vessels (144 Panamax and 77 Capesize) are expected to call on the terminal every year. Full capacity will bring a total of 487 vessels. Capesize ships some of the largest on the sea, can weigh hundreds of thousands of tons and be as long as three football fields.  Panamax vessels are typically just more than half the size of Capesize ships and can weigh in at as much as 85,000 tons.

Approximately 184 acres of emergent vegetation, 831 acres of forest and 108 acres of shrub will be cleared. These figures represent the total acreage by vegetation type, not what will be cleared. I apologize for the error.

• The terminal construction will include a coastal lagoon on the east side of Gulf Road, adjacent to an existing coastal lagoon. The new lagoon will be built to help compensate for impact to wetlands in the area.

• SSA Marine will transfer the saltwater marsh and adjacent lands located on the southwest corner of the property to Whatcom County for park and conservation purposes and grant public access to the property to replace the lost public beach area north of the terminal’s wharf.

For more information about the project, visit the Whatcom County planning department website. For a PDF of the project information document referenced above, click here.