Passions Run High at Cherry Point Coal Terminal Hearing

Coal terminal protest rally outside the


SEATTLE, Washington, December 13, 2012 (ENS) – Citizens concerned about coal’s contribution to global warming and the potential impact to the Puget Sound ecosystem spoke out Thursday against a giant terminal that would ship coal and grain to Asia proposed for Cherry Point on the northern Washington coast.

More opponents than supporters of the proposal converged on the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle for the last of seven public hearings on the scope of an environmental impact statement that three federal agencies will jointly prepare for the Gateway Pacific Project at Cherry Point.

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Coal terminal protest rally outside the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle features a giant salmon to dramatize how salmon would suffer if the terminal is built, December 13, 2012. (Photo courtesy Sierra Club Cascade Chapter)

At a rally outside the Convention Center impassioned opponents cried out against shipping coal by rail through Washington communities and against burning coal at all. They worry about the impact of shipping coal on shellfish beds, salmon and endangered wildlife. They fear air, land and water pollution from coal dust, and spills into pristine coastal waters. And they are concerned about what burning the 48 million tons of coal that would move through Cherry Point every year would do to the global climate.

An overflow crowd of more than 2,300 people packed two hearing rooms in the Convention Center, where people were selected by lottery for 60 second speaking slots.

Grannies spoke in rhyme, “We’re raising our voice, we need a new choice: no more coal.”

One high school student urged the authorities to “consider climate change my generation faces.”

“Many of us have lost hope that we can reverse climate change,” she said. “It’s not in the future – it’s happening now!”

“Sea levels are rising now. It’s now we are at the turning point. The money we make from China won’t matter after that coal is burned and climate change accelerates. Money won’t matter,” she emphasized. “Don’t help us reach the point of no return.”

These speakers are opposed to the $660 million Gateway Pacific Project at Cherry Point proposed by Pacific International Terminals, a subsidiary of SSA Marine of Seattle, one of the world’s largest shipping companies.

If permitted, Gateway Pacific Terminal would be a multi-commodity, dry bulk cargo-handling facility for grain, potash, and coal on nearly 1,500 acres in Whatcom County, with development occurring on about one-quarter of the site. The shipping, stevedoring, and warehousing facility would be the largest on the U.S. West Coast.

“This is not only an issue local to Whatcom County,” King County Executive Dow Constantine told the panel on behalf of Seattle. “Communities along the rail corridor serving the proposed terminal will see environmental, health, traffic, and economic impacts.”

“We have done away with coal-fired plants in this state. Burning this coal will create greenhouse gas emissions roughly equal to the total of all emissions from all sources in Washington State,” said Constantine.

Bulk coal carrier of the type that would travel to and from the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point
Bulk coal carrier of the type that would travel to and from the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point (Photo courtesy Gateway Pacific)

SSA Marine promises to work with federal and state agencies to ensure “stringent environmental standards.” When federal and state environmental standards differ, “we will adopt the higher standard,” the company says.

The company promises to operate the facility with ballast water control, coal dust suppression, below decks cargo loading, enclosed conveyors and enclosed rail car unloading and stormwater treatment.

Located at Cherry Point, Washington, 17 miles south of the U.S.-Canada border, and west of the city of Bellingham, the site is closer to Asia than other U.S. ports.

The Cherry Point region is zoned for heavy industry and already hosts two oil refineries and an aluminum smelting operation.

The nearly 1500-acre Gateway Pacific Terminal site is located between the Alcoa-Intalco aluminum smelter and BP’s Cherry Point Refinery, Washington’s largest. The property already has access to industrial utilities and is served by BNSF Railway tracks that connect to producers across the U.S. Northern Tier states and Midwest states.

The area’s second refinery, owned by Phillips 66, and the BP refinery, process crude oil from Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay oil field. Refined products are delivered by tanker and pipeline to filling stations and airports in Washington and Oregon.

SSA Marine says the site is “unique” as it is “the only nexus in the western United States of naturally deep water, a large upland area suited to handling bulk commodities, continental rail service, and proper zoning.”

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Rocky beach at the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve (Photo courtesy Washington State DNR)

Encompassing these industrial sites is the 296-acre Cherry Point Reach Aquatic Reserve established by the Washington Department of Natural Resources, inhabited by five species of salmon.

Cherry Point once hosted one of the largest herring spawning grounds in Puget Sound, but that spawning stock has undergone a deep decline in the last 20 years and now is considered to be in “critical” condition, says the nonprofit People for Puget Sound. Fishing for herring roe and eggs is now banned in the region.

The reserve is inhabited by species listed as Endangered under federal law such as: the humpback whale, southern resident killer whale and leatherback sea turtle.

Federally listed Threatened species in the reserve include: Chinook salmon, bull trout, Puget Sound steelhead Trout, Steller sea lion, bald eagle and marbled murrelet.

The reserve also hosts commercially important Dungeness crab and flatfish populations, and forage fish including Pacific herring, surf smelt, and sand lance.
These forage fish constitute a major portion of the diets of salmon, seabirds, marine mammals, and other fish.

But shipping terminal supporters also were out in force at Thursday’s hearing in Seattle. They include labor unions and business people and mayors of the smaller cities along the Washington coast.

People from Bellingham, a liberal city of 80,885, generally oppose the terminal. People from the surrounding towns in the more conservative county generally support it.

Supporters maintain that Whatcom County needs more good jobs and the terminal will pay high wages and taxes to support local schools.

Construction and longshore union members support the terminal. Mark Lowry, president of the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, told the November 29 hearing in Ferndale, the town closest to the proposed terminal.

“Organized labor is very clear, from the hiring halls in Northwest Washington to our state and national federations, we want the Gateway Pacific Terminal built. Our members know how to build and operate these facilities safely,” Lowry said.

“Labor takes a backseat to no one on strong environmental standards, and none will be slighted here. We want to do this project right, and we call on the agencies to get on with the study,” Lowry said.

The Northern Whatcom County Small City Caucus delivered a letter from the Mayors of Blaine, Everson, Ferndale, Lynden, Nooksack, and Sumas dated November 29 urging a fair consideration of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal.

Sent to the agencies – The Army Corps of Engineers, the Washington State Department of Ecology, and Whatcom County – that are conducting the Environmental Impact Statement process, the mayors’ letter urged the agencies to consider the new jobs, infrastructure improvements, increased trade, and tax revenues the project would bring.

Nearly 100 miles to the south, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn Thursday announced that his administration will commission a study on the local economic impacts resulting from 18 coal trains passing through Seattle each day on their way to the Gateway Pacific Terminal.

“Seattle’s economy is growing at a faster pace than the rest of the region, state and country,” said McGinn. “As the entire city works together to recover from the longest, deepest recession since the Great Depression, we need to do our due diligence to analyze the negative impacts to our local economy should this coal train proposal become a reality.”

The City of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development is seeking an evaluation of the potential economic impacts of the proposed coal train operations, with particular focus on Seattle’s north waterfront and Duwamish Manufacturing and Industrial Center.

“We have done an initial review of local traffic and safety impacts of this proposal. Now we need to work to make sure that we are protecting our local economy. The impacts from these coal trains will be felt at the local level,” said the mayor. “That is why we need a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement to help inform policy makers on this proposal.”

King County Executive Constantine told the panel, “Up to 18 trains a day, each a mile-and-a-half long, will cause unscheduled delays at street-level crossings and slow the movement of goods and workers. It will use up finite rail capacity that our industries like aerospace rely on to move parts and finished products.”

“It’s also an issue of health and social justice, with some of our most vulnerable communities living along the rail corridor,” said Constantine.

Over 170 local physicians have come together to ask that a Health Impact Assessment be performed in the evaluation of the proposed Gateway Pacific coal terminal.

The City of Seattle evaluation is scheduled to be completed by March 30, 2013.

On the overall Gateway Pacific proposal, the public comment period remains open through January 21, 2013. Comments are welcome at:

Over the course of 2013, an environmental impact statement will be drafted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Washington State Department of Ecology and Whatcom County.

In 2014 or later, there will be public hearings and another public comment period on the draft environmental impact statement.

Click here for complete and detailed information on the Cherry Point terminal from the Washington State Department of Ecology.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.

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