Gateway Pacific Terminal agencies review 125,000 public comments to determine scoping requirements

Published on Wed, Apr 17, 2013 by Ian Ferguson

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A 140-page report summarizing the nearly 125,000 public comments concerning the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) at Cherry Point was released April 1, and is available online at

Over a 120-day commenting period, an average of more than 1,000 comments were submitted per day. In all, 124,889 comments were submitted between September 24, 2012 and January 21, 2013.

The dry bulk commodities terminal project would require beefing up railroad facilities to accommodate shipments intended for export, including coal from the Powder River Basin. The project application was submitted by Pacific International Terminals, a subsidiary of SSA Marine Inc. The state department of ecology, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Whatcom County are co-lead agencies in charge of reviewing the proposal.

The public was asked to comment on what they considered the potential impacts of the project would be. With the summary completed, it is up to SSA Marine and its contractors to address those concerns in the EIS, which should be 
released in 2014 or 2015.

The engineering firm CH2M Hill reviewed, categorized and summarized the comments, which were submitted by mail, email, verbally at scoping meetings, in bulk email form letters and in handwritten notes.

“The entire review process required a lot of time and a small team of people,” said CH2M lead Jodi Ketelston. “We had one person scanning, one person uploading and a few people reviewing and summarizing comments. The summarizing was done using a single document that was accessible to the team. Each issue raised in the comments was added to the document and noted who made the comment.”

The report categorizes comments based on where and how they were received as well as by their issue of concern. Of the 124,889 comments, 108,995 were received as signatures on bulk form letters from various groups in support or opposed to the project, 1,207 were verbal comments submitted during scoping meetings and 14,687 were submitted individually in writing.

Concerns raised included the impact of higher rail traffic on traffic delays at railroad crossings and how many living wage jobs at the terminal would be available for county residents.

Federal agencies also weighed in. The U.S. Forest Service wanted the EIS to study how federal forest land such as Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area would be impacted by fire-causing sparks, noise and coal dust pollution from increased rail traffic. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requested that the EIS study the health impacts of coal dust, train noise and fire danger to nearby neighborhoods.

Representatives from the Lummi Nation voiced concerns about threats to watersheds and fisheries, as well as properties and resources of cultural significance. Children at Lummi schools sent 150 letters, many of which stressed the importance of fishing, crabbing and clamming in the waters near Cherry Point.

“The water is part of our culture. We use it to fish, crab, dig clams, canoe race and for the canoe journey,” student Savanah LaClair stated in her letter.

State agencies chimed in, with (former) Washington Department of Commerce director Rogers Weed requesting a study of the project’s economic benefits as well the public costs.

By and large, the comments called for a broad review of the direct and indirect impacts of all phases of the project, including increases to mining and burning coal once the terminal is up and running.

In summarizing the data, CH2M did not prioritize issues based on how many comments were received concerning them, but did make a note of common themes.

“The purpose of the report is to record all issues raised and make sure they are considered when preparing the EIS,” Ketelston said.