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If it is expanded — and the Corps appears reluctant to do so — the environmental study could be under the auspices of any federal agency with an interest in the review. Congress would have the power to intervene, subject to presidential veto. Two decades ago, a plan by Chicago Bridge and Iron at Cherry Point prompted the Washington Legislature to enact a law suspending shoreline protection in order to allow oil-drilling rigs to be assembled; Gov. John Spellman vetoed the act. Congressional Republicans have made efforts to force President Obama to approve the Keystone Pipeline.
Is Gateway Pacific Terminal in that league? Clearly it is of more importance than Chicago Bridge and Iron because of its principal commodity — coal is a trigger-word for climate-change activists and rail and ship traffic for Gateway would dwarf that of Chicago Bridge. It may more closely resemble an aboveground Keystone pipeline — coal trains would cross four or five states and any impact on Salish Sea marine life could affect two nations. Canada is already sending nearly 5,000 commercial ships a year (loaded and empty, tankers, bulkers and container ships) through Washington’s waters. The terminal would add nearly 1,000 more.
A cumulative study could take into consideration the existing rail and ship traffic plus the 48-million tons of coal annually from Gateway Pacific and the 44-million tons from the proposed Millennium project at Longview. The scoping process for Millennium is about to begin with the Corps, Cowlitz County, and Ecology as partners in the study. If a decision were made for an area-wide study, the Whatcom and Cowlitz terminals could be morphed into a single review, perhaps along with three smaller proposals in Oregon.
The size of the turnouts and the breadth and passion of the speakers has already caused a schedule change. A Seattle hearing, set for Nov. 13 at North Seattle Community College, has been moved to Dec. 13 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle, a much larger venue. An Ecology official said 3,000 people can be accommodated there. Agencies were concerned that the community college venue, with room for about 1,000 people, could not deal with the larger crowds they now expect.
Opponents of coal exports waved signs and banners and many stood for over an hour in a rainstorm to pack a Bellingham gym and auditorium on Oct. 27 with about 2,000 damp bodies. In Friday Harbor on Nov. 3 the San Juan Islands’ unique mix of funky and profound saw a man in a seal mask, a rap song, a poem, and an excited Chinese student who described dire effects of burning coal in her home country.
These unique comments were quickly followed by a host of marine scientists with very specific subjects that should be studied, and ship and ferry officers with warnings about “constrained waters with many hazards” in the shipping channels of Haro and Rosario straits, as described by retired ferry captain Ken Burtness of Lopez Island. “We put too much in and we take too much out,” said retired marine biologist M. Patricia Morse; she listed a host of marine species that would be devastated by coal spill on the floor of Haro Strait. “Almost all San Juan jobs are ocean-related,” she reminded officials.
Native American leaders testified at Bellingham and Friday Harbor. Lummi Nation spokesman Jay Julius led off the Bellingham testimony. "Science is respected by our nation, but we have our own knowledge and teaching," Julius said. "Lummi Nation says no . . . I am personally a fisherman as my great-great-great-grandparents were fishermen ... long before the arrival of science." Julius told officials from the Corps, Whatcom County and the Washington Department of Ecology, the three co-lead agencies on the environmental review, "I would like to encourage a spiritual or soul study to be done ... to study the impacts that this will have on our people,"
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