Save Birch Bay concerned about potential coal shipment, storage

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 20, 2013 

A coal train heads north along the waterfront through the old Georgia-Pacific site in Bellingham in March of 2011.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Save Birch Bay continues to take issue with statements about coal in a recent Gateway Pacific Terminal advertisement from SSA Marine, the company wanting to build and run the proposed facility.

SSA Marine's ad says, "All cargo moved over land will be in covered conveyors; material moved over water will be in enclosed conveyors." We feel this gives the illusion that all coal at the terminal will be covered. The planning document states that there will be 2 1/2 miles of uncovered coal storage piles up to 62 feet high. So, when you're thinking about enclosed or covered conveyors moving coal, add to that the reality of miles of completely uncovered coal storage piles, higher than a six-story building.

The ad says it's unlikely that fewer trains will pass through our community if Gateway Pacific Terminal is not built. We believe SSA Marine shrewdly manipulates people's thinking on this subject. We feel they do this by saying that Canadian coal terminals are spending $400 million expanding some of their coal terminals' capacity, which is true, but what SSA Marine does not say is that, even with the expansions at those terminals, executive management at those terminals say that the terminals don't have capacity for Powder River Basin coal (this was reported in a March 20, 2012 article in Coal Age magazine). The article concluded with, "Bottom line is while Ridley and Neptune [terminals] are rapidly expanding a good portion of what throughput space is being created actually won't be available on the open market. Much of the new capacity is already owned. . . And despite whatever hopes are raised by the prospects of new capacity, most U.S. producers are going to have to keep hoping new west coast ports can finally figure out a way to open up." Also, in a June 14, 2013 article in Platts (an energy industry publication) it was reported that Ridley Terminal, though expanding from 12 million tons to 24 million tons, has already sold out its future 24 million ton capacity. So, there is "no room at the inn" for Power River Basin coal at Canadian terminals.

The real story on the trains-to-Canada question is: There are currently three full and three empty coal trains going through our community to Canadian coal terminals. If the proposed Surrey B.C. coal terminal is built, there would be a potential increase of one full and one empty coal train per day. If Gateway Pacific Terminal is built, then we would definitely see an increase of 18 (9 full and 9 empty) coal trains daily at full build-out of Gateway Pacific Terminal, on top of the coal trains currently going to Canada. This is the reality, rather than what we believe is the carefully constructed scenario, that seems obvious to us, from SSA Marine. Also, in their ad, SSA Marine uses a quote out of context from a local environmental group, giving the impression that if the Surrey B.C. coal terminal were built, we would see up to 10 coal trains a day through Washington to Canada. That 10 coal-trains-a-day number was actually referring to the combination of nine full coal trains to Gateway Pacific Terminal, plus the one additional full coal train to Surrey B.C. terminal if it is built, so, a combined total of 10 (full trains) daily if Gateway Pacific Terminal and the Surrey B.C. terminals are built.

SSA Marine's ad says Gateway Pacific Terminal is a multi-cargo handling facility that will handle dry-bulk commodities like coal, grain, potash and wood bio-fuels. The planning document states however, that for the first 10 years of Gateway Pacific Terminal's operation only coal and possibly Canadian potash, and calcined coke would be handled and exported. Exporting grain is not expected until after that time in the future.

The ad says, "Tax subsidies being sought: zero." That may be true of the terminal construction itself, but that will not be the case in terms of needed infrastructure and BNSF rail overpasses, sidings, etc., for which the taxpayers will be footing the bill. Rail overpasses are very expensive, ranging anywhere from about $25 million to $70 millon, depending on location, etc. Historically, BNSF has only been responsible for 5 percent of those costs (as required by law), so, 95 percent of those costs (subsidies) will be borne by taxpayers.

We believe SSA Marine misleads the public with its advertisements and with the information disseminated by its paid consultants and PR firms. If they act like this now while they are courting us, what will they act like if the marriage contract (permit) would be issued?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sandy Robson is communications director for Save Birch Bay, a group of about 30 residents who meet monthly and are dedicated to educating Birch Bay residents and the community about the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal. Meetings are held the second Wednesay of the month and are open to the public. For more information about the group, email savebirchbay@yahoo.com.

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