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A major problem for Public Financial Management and others attempting to assess the net impact of a project like Gateway Pacific is that it is extraordinarily difficult to measure a negative — that is, potential loss of jobs or potential fiscal impacts to a community, other than the considerable cost of building overpasses and controlled crossings to deal with added rail traffic.
Weighing all this conflicting testimony will be the job of representatives of Whatcom County, the Washington State Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; they are sitting through the seven meetings and sifting through thousands of online and written comments. They must determine the scope of topics to be studied in an environmental impact study (EIS) that will be conducted over the next two years.
Most of the testimony Thursday did not address the question asked by the scoping team: What do you want us to study, and why? Speakers, instead, wanted to make a point: We need jobs as soon as possible, Gateway Pacific promises the jobs and we want it built. One scoping issue that was addressed, however, was whether the EIS should have a broad mission — pulling in other coal-terminal proposals such as a large one in Longview — and creating what the agencies call an “area-wide study.” Pro-terminal speakers stressed that they want a single-project-only review. An area-wide study — a priority of many export-terminal opponents — would delay the EIS and open up issues such as intrastate rail traffic that could be crippling to the terminal.
The scoping hearings move downstate in December, with a Tuesday (Dec. 4) meeting in Spokane, followed by Dec. 12 in Vancouver and Dec. 13 at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle.
This story has been updated since it first appeared to correct the number of indirect jobs estimated from the terminal study by Martin Associates.
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