- June 2012: Environmental consulting company CH2M Hill has been selected by the Agencies to help prepare the required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)
- March 2012: SSA files new application for GPT coal port.
- February 2012: Consultants file bids to carry out the EIS.
- July 2011: WA State Department of Ecology accepts the offer to assume co-lead role during the environmental assessment of the GPT proposal.
- June 2011: Whatcom County ruled SSA Marine’s former project request “incomplete” and formally rejected a request for reconsideration of that ruling.
Click here for CWB’s memorandum on why the Bellingham rail siding should be included in the GPT permit
There are two permits involved in the review of the Gateway Pacific Terminal project. Both are processed by Whatcom County but involve other agencies and a complex process that will take some two-plus years. One is a major development permit which covers all of the upland development like the two-train loops, 80-acre storage area for coal piles, and product handling systems. The other is a Shoreline Substantial Development Permit which covers the wharf and product transport systems connected across the shoreline to the upland facility.
The permit process will include an approximately two-year long combined EIS for state and federal purposes which will be executed by consultants managed by Whatcom County administration (the County Council has no role until any final permits come before them in two to three years). US Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) is the lead federal NEPA agency, but typically the processes are combined, and they will work in concert with the County.
Because the the wharf and transport systems are located in the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve, a final step before any issued shoreline permit actually becomes valid is for DNR to make a determination that the permit is in compliance with its management plan for the reserve.
While the official process does not begin until applications for new or revised permits are filed with the County, the State has developed a “fast track” regulatory mechanism that involves multiple parties (EPA, USACE, Ecology, Fisheries, DNR, County officials, tribes, etc.). The intent is to simplify and centralize the process. That process is known as the “GPT MAP Team” which is staffed by the Governor’s Office of Regulatory Assistance (ORA). Deployment of that team was initiated by applicant contact with the state in August of 2010 and is ongoing. Individual citizens can gain access to the MAP Team site which includes agendas, meeting notes, and its extensive documentation. This is done by creating an account with the state.
The GPT MAP Team is negotiating various changes with the applicants as well as suggesting studies and mitigation to be part of the “scope” of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). An EIS is technically optional based on a determination of significance (DS) by the agencies, but there is no doubt that an EIS will be required by both lead agencies: USACE under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); Whatcom County under State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).
Once the permits are submitted and a “Determination of Significance” is issued (meaning that it is determined the project is significant enough to warrant an environmental review), an independent consultant firm specializing in the EIS process will be hired. It is assumed the NEPA and SEPA EIS will be combined together under the auspices of Whatcom County/WA Department of Ecology – the SEPA lead agencies – with USACE advising. The costs are ultimately paid by the applicants, but the consultants work for the agencies. One of the first duties of the consultants will be to review the suggested scope of study from the GPT MAP Team and Whatcom County efforts. They will then design and open a public comment period (usually 30 days) to review the scope that is proposed and solicit public comment. The consultants will summarize results from this process and make recommendations to the County/WA DoE that will then adopt the final scope.
Initially, the permitting agencies were not considering any off-site impacts–such as the health, environmental and economic impacts of increased freight train traffic across dozens of WA communities–in the EIS scope. However, the contact of many citizens with decision makers in this process has had a substantial having an impact. Whatcom County has now said that impacts of railroad routes in Whatcom, including Bellingham, will “likely” be included in the scope.
The City administration and council have expressed support for expanding the scope. (see our Act page for updates of what actions citizens can take to be involved in the process) as well as communications included below. And, the Department of Ecology’s role as co-lead does indicate and understanding that the scope of this project expands beyond Whatcom County.
The next phase, after any challenges or appeals to this initial scoping are settled, is the actual completion of studies and development of recommended conditions to be a part of the Permits. This is a long period of time in the making. The end product of this effort is a draft EIS which will be subject to public review before a final draft is created.
Previous communications on SSA’s application to revise the 1992 permit:
Whatcom County Correspondence:
from public county documents, background is our emphasis.
From: “Tyler Schroeder” Date: April 15, 2011 8:07:58 AM PDT
Subject: Re: Simple Procedural Questions on GPT SEPA process
It is my understanding that the County has the final decision on whether it should be a new Shoreline permit or a revision to the original 1992 filing. We will be in consultation with Ecology in regards to their opinion. The decision of the appropriate path is an administrative decision and does not require public process. It is hard to put a timeframe on the decision at this point.
The applicant and Whatcom County PDS has agreed that a new MPP will be submitted. Again, this is an administrative decision.
Hope this helps.
Tyler R. SchroederCurrent Planning Supervisor
From: Tschroed@co.whatcom.wa.us Date: Tue, 3 May 2011CC: PKremen@co.whatcom.wa.us
Subject: Fwd: RE: Gateway Terminal Project
I have been forwarded your comments in regards to the GPT Terminals EIS. I am the SEPA Official who will oversee the preparation of the EIS including the scoping process. I assure you that the EIS will include environmental review of the train route associated with the GPT terminal. The exact scope of that review has not been set and additional involvement in the scoping process by the community will help set those parameters. However, it is very likely that at a minimum the train route will be reviewed for impacts within Whatcom County, including Bellingham.
Thanks again for your interest in this important topic and I look forward to additional discussions with you if you have any questions.
Tyler R. Schroeder, Current Planning Supervisor