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Gregoire is a firm neutral on the coal port proposal

She tells a Bellingham audience that the coal bound for China will be coming out of the Mountain states, but it's an open question whether the port will be in Washington or Canada.

Shipping coal to Asia has become a major business in Canada.

Shipping coal to Asia has become a major business in Canada. Port Metro Vancouver

Peppered with questions about a proposed coal-shipping terminal on the Whatcom County coast, Gov. Chris Gregoire denied Monday that she’s anything other than neutral concerning the project. “You cannot infer anything,” Gregoire told the Bellingham City Club, responding to questions about her position for or against the Gateway Pacific Terminal, proposed for the Cherry Point shoreline about a dozen miles north of Bellingham.

Last year the governor brought the permitting process for the proposed terminal into the Governor’s Office of Regulatory Assistance, an agency designed to create a “one-stop” process for major proposals such as GPT. In her remarks Monday Gregoire said the ORA is not a “fast track” agency with the goal of speeding approval, but rather an attempt at avoiding repetitious processes agency by agency.

SSA Marine, the would-be builder and operator of the port, says it will eventually be designed to handle 48 million metric tons of coal per year, to be shipped from Montana and Wyoming to Asian ports, primarily in China. As such, it would dwarf any other coal-shipping port on the West Coast and require an estimated 18 additional coal trains per day, each a mile and a half long, through two dozen Washington cities from Spokane to the Columbia River and north to Cherry Point. 

One way or another, the coal will be shipped, Gregoire told a jam-packed Bellwether Hotel ballroom. “Let there be no mistake, Wyoming and Montana are going to extract their coal and they’re going to export it. The question is, does it go through Canada or does it go through Washington?”

Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike publicly opposes the terminal on environmental and economic grounds, arguing that it would interfere with a major waterfront redevelopment project being designed by the Port and city of Bellingham. Two Bellingham citizens groups have raised objections based in part on the prospect of congested railroad/street crossings, and coal dust pollution in the region near the terminal. 

The port’s owners, backed by the Bellingham–Whatcom County Chamber of Commerce and the Whatcom County Labor Council, say the terminal would add more than 2,000 jobs during the construction phase and more than 200 permanent jobs once the cargo’s being shipped, in a community where living-wage industrial jobs are disappearing fast.

Bob Simmons is a freelance writer and former KING-TV journalist living in Bellingham, Wash. You can reach him in care of editor@crosscut.com.


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