A group that supports the proposal to build a coal and bulk cargo terminal at Cherry Point phished the email address used to accept comments on the scope of the environmental review for the terminal, according to a Washington state Department of Ecology spokesman.
The group, believed to be based in Montana, used the email address - email@example.com - to contact people and solicit comments on the Gateway Pacific Terminal, Ecology spokesman Larry Altose said.
CH2M Hill, the company that operates the comment website for the regulatory agencies overseeing the project, last week contacted the agencies about the phishing, temporarily shut down the email address, and told the group responsible to stop.
The email address was reactivated Tuesday, Jan. 15.
Comments were accepted during the shutdown, Altose said. During that time, people also were encouraged to comment on what potential impacts and mitigation for the Gateway Pacific Terminal should be studied by going to the website at eisgatewaypacificwa.gov.
"There was never any cutoffs of comments," Altose said.
People who are concerned about whether their comments got through during the phishing issue can resubmit them.
Altose didn't know how many people were contacted by the group responsible for the phishing or what the message was, adding that those weren't the primary concerns.
"We want to stress the identity or position of the group doesn't matter," he said. "The concern we have is not with the content of the message, but with use of our email address and identity. We're not in an advocacy role."
He said the agencies in charge of the review don't send unsolicited emails to people asking for comments.
Other than this most recent event, Altose said, the comment period for the scoping process has gone smoothly.
More than 14,000 comments have been submitted about the project during the scoping period, and more than 9,000 people participated at scoping meetings in November and December.
More than 5,000 or 6,000 of those comments are from a dozen organized comment campaigns, Altose added.
"Comment campaigns are a part of comment periods in general," he said.
The deadline to submit comments for this phase has been moved one day to Jan. 22 because the original deadline of Jan. 21 fell on a federal holiday, Martin Luther King Day.
The deadline will not be extended because of the phishing problem, according to Altose.
By the time the comment period ends, it will have lasted for an "unprecedented 121 days - just on scoping," Altose said. "So we believe that there has been an unprecedented opportunity for comment."
JAN. 22 DEADLINE TO SUBMIT COMMENTS
The deadline to submit comments on what potential impacts and mitigation for the Gateway Pacific Terminal should be studied has been extended one day to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 22.
To learn more about the project or how to submit comments, go online to eisgatewaypacificwa.gov.
After reviewing the comments, consultants working for Whatcom County, the state Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will put together a draft environmental impact statement, which also will have a public comment period.
Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or firstname.lastname@example.org.