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As part of the Gateway evaluation, the Corps has the authority to assess the impact of similar proposals in the region. Of particular interest is the Millennium Bulk Terminals project on the Columbia River at Longview, similar in size to the Cherry Point project. The Corps plans to begin a separate scoping process for Millennium in a few months. They will wait for those findings before deciding if an area-wide review should be part of the Gateway evaluation.
Millennium probably won't generate the kind of statewide scoping meetings that were held for Gateway; by now, the agencies of record are well aware of the regional issues that citizens want examined. Which means that the Millennium scoping should proceed at a faster and more-localized pace, although some of those who testified at the Gateway Pacific scoping meetings may appear in Longview.
Millennium will also be reviewed by a joint-agency team, with Cowlitz County taking the place of Whatcom County. Although the sites are quite different, both projects involve a large body of water, about 18 coal trains daily and a thousand big ships a year.
Once the cooperating agencies agree on the scope of the EIS, the Gateway process will move behind closed doors for at least a year while CH2M Hill and its subcontractors study the issues within the scope. During this phase, project developer SSA Marine will interact directly with the review teams. A Draft EIS could be available by late 2015.
The publication of the Draft EIS, essentially a massive set of studies in the fields that emerged from the scoping process, will trigger another round of public hearings. Unlike the public "scoping" meetings, these hearings will focus solely on the Draft EIS. Agencies with knowledge and jurisdiction, as well as interested citizens and groups will have the opportunity to comment on the quality of the evidence, the range of alternatives and the evaluation of impacts and mitigation measures. By law, every written comment must receive a response. Lawyers, subject matter experts and citizens on both sides of the terminal issue will attack the document, hoping to have it amended. When all the dust has cleared, officials from the three key agencies (Whatcom County, Ecology and the Army Corps) will then prepare the Final EIS, submit it to the decision-makers and then wait — likely, for months.
The deciders have several options: They can reject the project as submitted, approve it or approve it with conditions. Historically, projects the size of Gateway are seldom approved without conditions. The project's viability depends on the nature and extent of any conditions. Either side, or both sides have the right to appeal the decision in court.
Critical in the entire EIS process is defining the geographic and topical boundaries of the review. For example, opponents want to broaden the geographic scope by demanding a study of the rail impacts from the Powder River Basin coal fields to Cherry Point, a distance of 1,000 miles.
As for topical expansion, since climate change has returned to the world agenda and since coal is a major contributor to climate change, including Gateway's impacts on this phenomenon in the EIS could have global implications.
In like manner, the breadth of scientific studies widens if environmental reviews expand beyond Gateway Pacific’s thousand-acre site at Cherry Point. The impact of more shipping on whale migrations and the dangers of collisions or spills in the San Juan Islands are just a few of the issues opponents have raised. Onshore, opponents point to BNSF’s massive coal trains all along the shipping route, demanding health studies about the impact of diesel emissions, coal dust and safety.
SSA Marine, its partners and supporters would prefer that the EIS stay limited to the site itself. The group opposes linking GPT to other coal port proposals in the region, such as Millennium. BNSF is sure to make the point that interstate commerce is governed by federal law and a federal agency with wide jurisdiction over railroads.
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