Port of Skagit supports Cherry Point terminal - but not at their expense

Port of Skagit commissioners said Tuesday, Sept. 14, they generally support plans for a major shipping terminal at Cherry Point, but only if the project's proponents can lessen the impact on Skagit County's transportation system.

Commissioners signed three letters at their meeting Tuesday morning expressing that they are all for creating jobs, but they cannot fully support a project that would do so at the expense of Skagit's business community.

The Gateway Pacific Terminal would be used for coal and other bulk cargo. At full capacity, it could bring an additional 20 trains a day through Skagit's rail system, which bisects business sectors in Mount Vernon and Burlington.

"Our purpose is local economic development leading to the creation of good family wage jobs in our community. Let there be no doubt, the Gateway project as currently proposed will have a very negative impact on our local economy," a letter addressed to Gateway's backers reads.

Other letters were written to the Skagit Council of Governments, asking its members to send their own letter regarding the project, and also one to Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The city of Burlington and the Skagit County Commissioners also have written letters to the governor regarding the project and their concerns.

The port's letters suggest that the company behind the project, SSA Marine, foot the bill for transportation improvements it says would help mitigate those concerns.

Building overpasses for railways "at certain key locations" could be part of that solution, the letters say.

"The notion of 'he who benefits pays' is considered fundamentally fair in America, and we believe it is fully applicable to the Gateway Project’s effect on our community," the letters say.

They go on to say that local taxpayers should not be responsible for funding those improvements.

The terminal has been the topic of heated community forums from Bellingham to south of Seattle, with many groups focusing on the environmental and health concerns posed by coal being shipped through the state.

The port's letters say the commissioners do not consider it their role to become involved in that portion of the debate.

Before the terminal can be built, the project faces a lengthy environmental review process that will include public hearings and comment opportunities.