Official comment period to begin Sept. 24 on Cherry Point coal terminal project

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 21, 2012 

For those who want to weigh in on the Gateway Pacific Terminal project, the official comment period for a key point in the process starts Monday, Sept. 24.

That's when work begins on what should be included in the environmental impact statement for the proposed coal and bulk cargo terminal at Cherry Point.

Three governmental agencies - Whatcom County, the Washington Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - will jointly produce the EIS. To do that, the agencies are accepting public comment starting Monday and going through Jan. 21, 2013. The lead agencies also will talk to other government groups and the tribes for what impacts the EIS should address.

This part of the process does not address whether the project should receive permits, but only what should be studied in the EIS. Decisions about issuing permits to construct the terminal will not be made until after the EIS is complete.

Such studies look at the various impacts of a project and what should be done to mitigate them. In this case, it will look at the impact of both the terminal and the rail improvements for the trains serving it.

Opponents of the project are pushing to include many aspects, including the impact of coal dust on health and ramifications of increased train traffic along the entire corridor from Cherry Point to the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming, where coal trains would originate.

The public can view and post comments about the proposed project at eisgatewaypacificwa.gov. People also can mail comments to GPT/Custer Spur EIS, 1100 112th Ave. NE, Suite 400, Bellevue WA 98004.

The lead agencies will be hosting seven public meetings across the state about the project. Locally meetings will be held 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, at Squalicum High School in Bellingham and 3 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, at the Ferndale Events Center. Other meetings will in Friday Harbor, Mount Vernon, Seattle, Spokane and Vancouver.

SSA Marine is proposing to build and operate the Gateway Pacific Terminal, which would provide storage and handling of exported materials, including coal, grain, iron ore, salts and alumina, according to the agencies. BNSF Railway Inc. proposes to add rail facilities and install a second track along the six-mile Custer Spur.

Later in 2013, after the comment period, the lead agencies will issue a report and begin work on a draft EIS, which may take at least a year to prepare. Public comment will be taken on the draft EIS before a final version is completed.

Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2269. Visit his business blog online at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or get updates on Twitter at twitter.com/BhamHeraldBiz.

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