Gateway Pacific Terminals filed several hundred pages of documents late Monday with Whatcom County planners, setting in motion the formal processes that could result in the nation's largest coal-exporting terminal on a 1,200-acre deepwater site at Cherry Point north of Bellingham.
SSA Marine of Seattle, the developer of the proposed terminal, which would be capable of exporting up to 54 million tons of coal and other commodities at full buildout, had its applications rejected by the county nine months ago. This week's filing was the result of months of working with county, state, and federal agencies to design documents that will pass muster. If they are accepted, a process known as scoping will begin next month to determine the extent of the environmental review of the project
Some 23 separate permits and authorizations must be obtained from at least nine local, state, and federal agencies before construction can begin on the projet. Though SSA Marine hopes to begin operating in 2016, critics predict a longer time frame. Whatcom County plans to post the entire set of documents online. In the meantime, the Bellingham Herald has posted a link to the operative document.
The documents filed Monday make it clear that Gateway Pacific wants to avoid environmental studies away from its Cherry Point site. Discussions of transportation issues do not include railroad traffic away from the immediate site with its short spur line to serve the terminal, or the impact of adding nearly a thousand massive ships to the shipping lanes of the San Juan Islands.
The Cherry Point terminal is particularly sought-after because of its 80-foot channel, which requires no dredging and can handle shipping's massive Capesize ships, so large they cannot pass through the Panama Canal. About a third of the coal ships expected would be Capesize, the document projects; the others would be Panamax, somewhat smaller vessels.
The new ships would enter either through Haro or Rosario straits, which already carries heavy traffic from Vancover container and coal ports, as well as crude-oil tankers serving refineries at Cherry Point and Anacortes. More ships would be needed to service proposed oil-export ports at northern British Columbia ports. Coal ships are not under the same strict regulations that govern oil tankers.
The impacts of this and other expected transportation burdens have fired opposition in communities in the islands and along the long rail route through Washington state. A rally was scheduled Tuesday night in Bellingham by Power Past Coal, a joint venture of several opposition groups and headed by the Sierra Club, Climate Solutions, and ReSources, a Bellingham-based sustainability organization.
The nine months since SSA's original documents were rejected have seen a buildup of political action by both sides. The issue pits SSA Marine's claims of jobs and tax revenues against potential job losses, global concerns over climate change from coal-burning, community impact from a major increase in rail and shipping traffic, and health concerns related to coal dust and diesel fumes.
For its part, SSA has hired canvassers to go door-to-door in Whatcom County promoting the benefits of the terminal. The company has also produced a new promotional video featuring supporters of the terminal. In both cases the emphasis is on jobs.
Monday's filing provided a breakdown of prospective jobs created by the project. The terminal itself would only directly employ 89 workers on-site in 2016 and 213 upon full buildout in 2026; most would be longshoremen. The report claims that associated jobs created by the project (including 44 staff jobs and 173 workers in rail and marine jobs) would boost the total to 430, although most of the rail and marine jobs would not be local hires.
The company also outlined 2,100 jobs it expects to create in temporary construction to build the terminal, and indirect gains in jobs in local businesses. Jobs and tax revenues, mostly going to the state, have been the major selling point for the terminal.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!