SSA adds details to Gateway Pacific Terminal proposal for Cherry Point

SSA Marine has provided Whatcom County with more details on its plans for the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal and bulk cargo pier the firm hopes to build at Cherry Point.

The documentation submitted March 19 to the Whatcom County Planning Department contains few, if any, surprises. The basic outline of the project is the same as the one that has been a focal point for public debate since it was announced:

* a shipping terminal to be built in two phases, with berths for as many as three ships at a time;

* a cargo capacity that could handle five trains per day in its first phase, rising to as many as nine trains if the project is built to its maximum potential capacity of 54 million tons per year;

* direct employment of 89 people after the first phase is up and running, with a target date of 2016;

* full capacity employment of 213, not including jobs created on ships and trains that would serve the terminal;

* the first phase would focus on coal exports.

The new documentation supplements the information that the company provided to the county in June 2011.

It also provides detailed information on how the company expects to curb potential pollution sources such as coal dust and runoff:

* Coal "would be unloaded inside an enclosed rail car shed building ... equipped with a dust collection system."

* Coal and other commodities would be moved mostly on covered conveyor systems, although some uncovered activity would occur when commodities are removed from large storage piles onto conveyors to be carried to waiting ships.

* Uncovered coal piles would be equipped with fogging, water spray, wind screens and other dust control measures.

* The project would include stormwater systems that would be designed to capture and treat all the runoff from the construction site and the operating terminal before it is released into the sea.

The SSA documents also stress that the terminal will be built to handle a wide range of cargoes, including potash and grain as well as coal. But they also acknowledge that in its first years of operation, it will probably focus on coal.

Opposition to the Gateway Pacific project appears to be intensifying.

* One group, Coal-Free Bellingham, is gathering signatures in hopes of getting an anti-coal-train initiative before city of Bellingham voters this fall.

* Whatcom Docs, identifying themselves as a group of more than 180 county physicians, renewed their call for an in-depth study of health impacts from the project.

* A coalition of environmental groups issued a call for study of a broad range of project impacts, especially the impacts on communities along affected rail lines from Cherry Point to the Rocky Mountain coal mines.

The rail traffic is already a hot issue in Bellingham, and other communities along the rail lines are also beginning to speak up with their own concerns.

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics Blog at TheBellinghamHerald.com/blogs.

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