How to have your say on plan for terminal, coal trains

SEATTLE — Public comments are being collected regarding which issues should be included in a study of the environmental effects of a proposed export marine terminal near Bellingham.

The proposed Gateway Pacific terminal would serve as a place to send coal, grain, potash and scrap wood for biofuels to Asia. The terminal, proposed by SSA Marine, Inc. of Seattle, would bring up to 18 more trains per day through Snohomish County — nine full and nine empty.

The Gateway Pacific terminal would mean jobs, according to proponents. It also could mean long traffic delays at railroad crossings and pollution from coal dust, opponents say.

Three public meetings have been held regarding the controversial proposal and four more are planned. Comments also may be submitted by email by Jan. 21.

The closest meeting to Everett is scheduled for Dec. 13 in Seattle. Earlier meetings were held in Bellingham, Mount Vernon and Friday Harbor. Other meetings are planned for Nov. 29 in Ferndale, Dec. 4 in Spokane, and Dec. 12 in Vancouver, Wash.

“We had hoped there would be a hearing in Snohomish County,” Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring said. “The city will be submitting written comments, largely based around the traffic concerns. We’ve encouraged our residents to the do the same if they would like to.”

There was no slight intended toward Snohomish County in scheduling the meetings, said Larry Altose, a spokesman for the state Department of Ecology.

“We couldn’t be in every location,” he said.

The trains would bring coal from Montana and Wyoming across Washington state to Vancouver, and then north, eventually running through Seattle, Edmonds, Mukilteo, Everett, Marysville and Stanwood. In Edmonds, Marysville and Stanwood, the trains run at the same grade as automobile traffic, potentially adding to backups.

The meetings and study process are being run jointly by the Ecology Department, the Army Corps of Engineers and Whatcom County.

The Seattle meeting was originally planned for North Seattle Community College but was moved to the Washington State Convention Center to accommodate more people, Altose said. The auditorium at North Seattle Community College holds about 1,000 people while the convention center holds 3,000, he said. Also, the convention center is located near I-5 and public transportation.

About 1,800 people attended the meeting in Bellingham, 1,000 people showed up in Mount Vernon and 450 in Friday Harbor, Altose said.

Still, he said, that pales in comparison to the emails received so far since the comment period began in late September — about 6,300 and counting.

SSA Marine, Inc. is paying $900,000 for the study process, including the meetings, Altose said. The amount was negotiated by the company and the three agencies, he said.

The terminal at Cherry Point would cost about $650 million, said Craig Cole, a consultant working for SSA Marine, Inc. The company is an international corporation owned by Carrix — 49 percent of which is made up of an infrastructure fund controlled by Goldman Sachs, the New York investment firm.

The plan likely will have to undergo two years of environmental studies and the terminal would take two more years to build, according to Whatcom County officials.

Estimates from the company figure the construction work would create up to 1,700 jobs and 4,400 temporary spin-off positions, and eventually the terminal would employ 450 people and generate 800 connected positions.

Opponents, which include environmental groups and Bellingham activists, say the plan would add to greenhouse gases, diesel exhaust from trains, coal dust pollution, traffic jams and noise.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

To learn more

A hearing on potential environmental issues associated with the Gateway Pacific export terminal is scheduled for 4-7 p.m. Dec. 13 at the Washington State Convention Center, Ballroom 6F, 800 Convention Place, Seattle.

Written comments may be submitted through Jan. 21 at http://www.eisgatewaypacificwa.gov/get-involved/comment.

For more information visit http://www.eisgatewaypacificwa.gov/.

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