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SSA Marine suspends environmental review of proposed coal port

FILE - In this April 4, 2013 file photo, coal is loaded onto hopper cars at Cloud Peak Energy’s Spring Creek Mine near Decker, Mont. Cloud Peak has a stake in the proposed Gateway Pacific coal terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County.
FILE - In this April 4, 2013 file photo, coal is loaded onto hopper cars at Cloud Peak Energy’s Spring Creek Mine near Decker, Mont. Cloud Peak has a stake in the proposed Gateway Pacific coal terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County. AP

The sponsor of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal for coal shipments to Asia is suspending work on an environmental review while it awaits a federal ruling on whether the exporting would interfere with Lummi Nation fishing rights.

SSA Marine, which retains a 51 percent ownership of the project, said Friday, April 1, it was halting the required environmental review until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers makes a decision on the treaty rights of the Lummi Tribe. In January 2015 the tribe asked the Corps to deny permits for the Cherry Point-area project because it would interfere with the tribe’s fishing grounds.

It is unclear when the Corps will announce a decision on the Lummi’s request.

A number of factors went into the decision to pause the review process, including a desire to make sure the work was in sync with other government agencies involved with the project, said Bob Watters, senior vice president of SSA Marine. He also noted that the next steps would take up significant financial and human resources. Those resources also would involve county and state agencies.

“We don’t want any new research to be out of step with what other agencies are working with,” he said.

$700 million estimated construction costs for the Gateway Pacific Terminal project

This step does not put an end to the terminal project. Watters believes the Corps should rule that the terminal would not interfere with Lummi fishing rights and that the EIS process should be completed.

He said the draft environmental review was scheduled to be completed by October. That will be delayed depending on how long the project is suspended.

Lummi Nation Chairman Tim Ballew II responded to Friday’s announcement from SSA Marine with a written statement that the tribe has received no indication from the Corps regarding a decision.

“We have submitted years of research showing that a terminal violates Lummi’s treaty rights, and we remain confident that the Corps will follow the law and make the right decision to deny the permit,” Ballew said.

GPT, if opened. would be capable of shipping 48 million metric tons of coal a year. It could mean 18 more trains through Whatcom County daily. Along with SSA Marine, the project is backed by the Crow Tribe in Montana and Cloud Peak Energy.

Coal companies hope exports to Asia will shore up their industry, which has been battered by competition from cheap natural gas and more stringent restrictions on pollution caused by burning the fuel. Two coal companies — Arch Energy and Peabody Energy — announced on Friday, April 1, that each is laying off more than 200 workers at mines in Wyoming. According to an article in the Sheridan Press in Sheridan, Wyo., Cloud Peak Energy has yet to announce job layoffs but acknowledges that 2016 will be a difficult year.

Construction costs for Gateway Pacific have been estimated at $700 million.

Lummi Nation Chairman Tim Ballew II and other leaders rally in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, to oppose the Gateway Pacific Terminal, which would export primarily coal and expand railways. Ballew says that the project would disregard

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