Review Process Kicks Off For Gateway Pacific Terminal In Bellingham

Mar 21, 2012

SSA Marine has submitted a permit application to build a bulk export terminal in Bellingham.

If approved, the terminal will be large enough to handle up to 54 million metric tons per year.

That could include wheat and grains but the majority will be coal. It will be delivered by train from mines in Wyoming and Montana – and then shipped out of Washington to Asian markets.

About 100 people gathered outside of Bellingham high school on Tuesday night to protest the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal.

Some wore gas masks. Others carried signs with pictures of sick fish and slogans like “No Dirty Coal” and:

Man in Crowd: “Please start caring. Save the herring.”

If the proposal is approved, the new terminal at Cherry Point North of Bellingham would have enough capacity for 9 trains per day and births for three large ships.

But first things first. An EIS or Environmental Impact Statement must be completed.

That’s when the Department of Ecology and other state agencies look at how a proposed project might affect the environment.

And this EIS is going to get a lot of attention, so governmental agencies held a public meeting last night to explain how the process works. Jeannie Summerhays is the northwest regional director for the state Department of Ecology.

Jeannie Summerhays: “This project has a significant amount of public attention. There’s a lot of concern about the proposal and so just from that aspect alone, the public interest, the concern related to the project is very high.”

The Environmental Impact Statement process hasn’t even started yet. It’s just getting into the pre-scoping phase. That’s when different agencies take comments from the public about what should be looked at in the official EIS.

Some people are already worried that things will be left out. One group – The Whatcom Docs – has called for an assessment of the human health impacts of increased train traffic in Washington. Dr. Frank James says your typical EIS isn’t set up to handle that aspect of a project like this.

Frank James: “An Environmental Impact Statement is really about protecting the environment and there’s a concern about human health in it, but not to the degree and not in the detail that is really needed to assess this project.”

The Department of Ecology says health impacts will be part of the EIS, but that right now it’s too early in the process to say exactly how they will be studied.

SSA Marine operates terminals all around the world. They will pay for the Environmental Impact Statement for the one proposed for Bellingham, but they won’t have any say over how the statement turns out.

Craig Cole is a spokesperson for SSA Marine.

Craig Cole: “This project will have to prove itself to get permitted. What we’re looking forward to is an environmental review process that’s based on science, facts and not emotion. That’s all the company asks for.”

But emotions in Bellingham right now are intense. At the end of the presentation people in the audience came forward to share their thoughts about the proposal.

T. King: “My question is what makes you think any of this is even necessary because we say “No,” right here right now we’re saying “no.” (Applause)

The public will soon have the opportunity to formally comment about what issues should be included in the Environmental Impact Statement.

Governmental agencies say the whole EIS process could take a year to complete.