Whatcom County decides to fine coal-port developer

The cost shouldn't be a show-stopper for a major corporation: $4,400.

The cost shouldn't be a show-stopper for a major corporation: $4,400.

The would-be builders of a coal-export terminal in Whatcom County got the bad news Wednesday (Aug. 3): they’ll be fined for grading wetlands at the site of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal north of Bellingham, without a permit.

Whatcom County Planning Department documents (here and here) detailed the violations. Gateway Pacific's parent company, SSA Marine, acknowledged responsibility. A news release from SSA said a contractor for SSA, AMEC Earth and Environmental, cut roads through the wooded wetland, to bring heavy equipment to the site for exploring the nature of soils where the company plans to build a huge rail yard and coal storage yard. SSA needs soil data for an environmental impact study for the proposed terminal. No date’s been set for beginning the study. 

In their notice to GPT, county planning officials outline a history of permits issued in the 1990s for an earlier and smaller version of the terminal, the violations in June, and the fines to be levied.

The fines seem unlikely to cause a lot of stress in the SSA boardroom: $1,000 each for two violations, plus $2,400 to cover the cost of staff investigations, for a total of $4,400. The company will also be required to submit a retroactive “Land Disturbance permit” application, which could cost considerably more.

In a letter to County Executive Pete Kremen, Planning Supervisor Tyler Schroeder describes the fines as “the severe impact amount.” Kremen had told reporters on Monday that “a slap on the wrist is not what we’re looking at.”

The Washington Department of Ecology could impose its own set of penalties for unauthorized grading of wetlands.

Building the proposed terminal to its capacity of 48 million metric tons of coal is estimated to cost at least $500 million. SSA Marine is a privately held company believed to be the world’s largest builder and developer of seaports.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Bob Simmons

Bob Simmons is a longtime KING-TV reporter who has been writing news for print and television for 65 years.