Montanans visit GPT terminal to talk about exports

Published on Wed, Mar 5, 2014 by Brandy Kiger Shreve

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Building a deep-water port terminal requires getting all your ducks in a row to ensure a return on the investment.

To make sure they have the exports they need, Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) officials are courting neighboring states to see who would be interested in partnering with their proposed venture.

SSA Marine, a Bellingham-based port management company, proposed the GPT project in 2011. If built, the GPT site at Cherry Point would be one of the largest exporters of coal in North America, handling around 48 million metric tons of coal per year.

On February 17, a delegation from Montana visited the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at the behest of Don Brunell, the former head of the Association of Washington Business. The trio, which included Montana Chamber of Commerce president Webb Scott Brown, Montana Farm Bureau vice president (and farmer) Bruce Wright, and Yellowstone County Commissioner John Ostlund, came to get a first-hand look at the site and plans for the proposed GPT terminal.

After the visit, Brown said he could see why SSA Marine had chosen the area. “The deep water port is a natural asset,” he said. “It’s obvious why a terminal would be a great fit for that area,” noting the proximity to the BP port terminal and rail line.

Brown said they already have exports passing through Washington and into Canada, so it makes sense for them to explore the option of exporting goods closer to home.

“Montana is exporting more products than ever before,” Brown said. “In fact, in 2011, coal exports experienced a 60 percent increase from the previous year, with $175 million sold around the globe. This is a critical part of our economy,” he said.

Brown said while coal is a big part of Montana’s exports, grain and wood by-products could be shipped from the terminal as well.

“This is the first step towards what we hope will be a great partnership,” said Brown. “We would like to come back again with more people from our state, and make our case to others in Washington state. This proposed facility is critical to Montana’s economy, and we are here to help.”

Brown also mentioned that the proposed facility could play a vital role in the ever-growing role of interstate commerce in Montana.

“We’re taking Montana to the world,” said Brown. “Our state thrives because of exports. This facility will just give us another leg-up in the global economy, and we want to do what we can to help make it happen.” 

While the Gateway Pacific Terminal has been proposed as a multi-commodity bulk export facility, coal is one of the main products slated for export. That has caused concern on the part of environmental groups in Washington state, and has slowed down an already comprehensive local, state and federal environmental review process.

“Our facility will expand capacity and provide farmers and other exporters with an efficient new portal for exports to growing markets in Asia,” said Bob Watters, senior vice president at SSA Marine, adding that upon completion, the privately funded project is designed to create 1,250 permanent family-wage jobs and generate nearly $140 million of salaries and tax revenues in Washington state each year.

The Gateway Pacific Terminal is currently in the middle of a lengthy regulatory review process at the local, state and federal levels.  

Wright said that he hopes the review will be practical and completed in a timely fashion. “It’s good to look at the impacts, but I hope it won’t hold up the project any more than necessary,” he said. Wright said he and the delegation are planning to visit other potential shipping ports as they make their decision about exporting options.