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County, state and federal agencies will join forces on Cherry Point impact statement

The Washington Department of Ecology, Whatcom County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have signed a formal agreement to share the job of overseeing an environmental impact statement for SSA Marine's proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal project at Cherry Point.

The project would consist of a new pier for loading coal and other bulk cargoes on vessels bound for Asia, with some new rail loops and connections to handle the trains that would haul the coal from Rocky Mountain mines.

In a news release, the three agencies announced that they expect to hire a consultant to prepare an environmental impact statement that will assess the project's impacts while also identifying ways to compensate for them. The cost of the study is expected to be borne by SSA Marine and by Burlington Northern Railway Co.

All three agencies will seek public comment on the scope of the analysis, giving people a chance to weigh in on what environmental issues need to be studied as part of the process. In Bellingham and other communities along the rail line, local officials have called for analysis of the impact of increased coal train traffic.

But the process of identifying whether that and other issues will be included in the environmental study has yet to begin.

The agencies have announced they expect the formal public comment period on the scope of the study to begin in early 2012. After the scope of study has been determined, a draft environmental impact statement will be prepared, and a further round of public comment will be conducted before the document and its findings take final form.

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