County seeks first round of comments on Cherry Point terminal project

Published on Wed, Apr 18, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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County residents now have their first opportunity to officially weigh in on the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal.

Whatcom County planning officials have announced the public will have until May 16 to comment on the “Notice of Application” for the $655 million terminal proposed for the Cherry Point industrial area just south of Birch Bay. This is the public’s first official opportunity to comment on the review process for the three separate Whatcom County permit applications recently submitted to county planning officials by the terminal project proponents, Seattle-based SSA Marine.

The comment period sets the stage for  the scoping and environmental review process for the terminal, which would annually transfer up to 48 million tons of coal and other bulk materials from trains to bulk transport ships. The scoping process, expected to start in summer, will allow regulatory agencies and the public to comment on what environmental impacts should be studied in the massive environmental impact review process necessary for the project.

The co-lead permitting agencies for the project, Whatcom County Planning and Development Services, the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will issue a determination that the project will need an EIS after the comment period ending May 16. The agencies are currently in the process of selecting a private consultant to complete the EIS.

The first comment period for the Gateway Pacific Terminal coincides with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommendation that the Army Corps thoroughly review another coal terminal project proposed for the city of Boardman on the Columbia River in Oregon.

The Columbia River project would transfer coal by barge west to another proposed terminal closer to the mouth of the Columbia River. The facility would handle up to 8.8 million tons of coal annually with 11 trains, 12 loaded barges and two large transport ships per week, according to project proponents Ambre Energy North America.

In an April 5 letter to the Corps, EPA office of ecosystems, tribal and public affairs director Kate Kelly wrote that increases in coal dust and diesel engine emissions from the project could have “the potential to significantly impact human health and environment.” Kelly said the Corps should consider the cumulative effects of other coal terminal projects in Oregon and Washington, including the Gateway Pacific Terminal and the Millennium Bulk Terminals proposal in Longview, Washington.

“The project is one of at least six proposals to export coal from Oregon and Washington, and one of at least three which will require permits from the Corps,” Kelly wrote. “All of these projects – and others like them – would have similar impacts. Consider, for example, the cumulative impacts to human health and environment from increases in greenhouse gas emissions, rail traffic, mining activity on public lands, and the transport of ozone, particulate matter, and mercury emissions from Asia to the United States.”

Kelly’s comments were made after the Corp’s notice that Ambre Energy had submitted permit applications. Corps spokesperson Patricia Graesser said SSA Marine also needs permits from the Corps but has not yet submitted applications.
SSA Marine needs at least 15 separate permits and authorizations from county, state and federal regulatory agencies.

Send comments on the Whatcom County permit applications to pds@co.whatcom.wa.us or to Whatcom County Planning and Development Services, 5280 Northwest Drive, Bellingham. For more information on the Gateway Pacific Terminal project, visit the county planning department's website for the project.