BELLINGHAM – Whatcom County has selected environmental consulting company CH2M Hill to play a key role in the preparation of an environmental impact statement to evaluate the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal and bulk cargo pier proposed at Cherry Point.
The environmental impact statement is a critical part of the governmental review process for the terminal. In preparing the statement, the consulting company will work with government agencies to help determine the likely economic and environmental side effects from the terminal, and what its owner, SSA Marine of Seattle, should be required to do to avoid them.
Whatcom County, the Washington Department of Ecology, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are cooperating to oversee the environmental review process for the proposed terminal and the BNSF Railway Co. projects that will be required to get trains bearing coal and other cargoes to the site.
BNSF officials say they can handle the load by doubling the six-mile railroad line that extends west from the main line at Custer to the existing industries at Cherry Point. The new SSA pier is proposed for a site between the BP Cherry Point refinery and Alcoa Intalco Works aluminum smelter.
But environmental organizations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and many residents of Bellingham have argued that the environmental review process should also study the environmental, health and traffic impacts of increased rail traffic through communities along the rail lines that link Cherry Point to Powder River Basin coal mines.
That issue will be hotly debated during the preliminary “scoping” phase of the environmental study process, which is expected to begin in summer 2012. The public, along with other government agencies and Indian tribes, will be asked to give their views on this and other environmental impacts that they believe should be included in the environmental impact statement process.
After that input is received in writing and via public hearings, Whatcom County, the Department of Ecology and the Army Corps of Engineers will decide the matter and the environmental impact research process will get under way in earnest. That process is expected to take well over a year.
Whatcom County Council will be asked to approve the contract with CH2M Hill during a June 5, 2012, council meeting. The cost of the contract has not yet been spelled out, but that cost will be borne by SSA and perhaps the railroad, not by Whatcom County or other taxpayer-supported governmental agencies, according to a press release from the Washington Department of Ecology.