Whatcom County planning staff have officially started to search for a private consultant to conduct the extensive environmental review of the $600 million shipping terminal proposed for Cherry Point.
Planning officials, through the county’s purchasing department, have released a “request for proposals” in which they detail what will be expected of any consultant seeking to perform the environmental impact statement (EIS) necessary for the Gateway Pacific Terminal project to proceed. Seattle-based shipping terminal company SSA Marine is proposing the 350-acre project for the Cherry Point industrial area just south of Birch Bay.
The request lists what county, state and federal regulators want studied in the EIS, which will detail the possible environmental impacts of the construction and continued operation of the terminal. Consulting firms seeking to win the contract to perform the EIS must submit their proposals by February 7.
The request document lists numerous possible impacts of the terminal that must be studied, including effects on wetlands in the Cherry Point area, rail and cargo vessel traffic, air quality and human health, just to name a few. The environmental review process for the terminal will involve input from the public, and the agencies overseeing the EIS (the Whatcom County planning department, state Department of Ecology and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) will require public outreach as part of the environmental review process.
“[The consultant will] provide a public participation plan, including website and public outreach proposal, to facilitate the public review of status, meetings, studies and other pertinent information throughout the EIS process,” county planning officials wrote in the request.
The agencies will also require the chosen firm to hold a minimum of three public hearings and three public scoping meetings during the EIS process. The scope of the EIS describes what will be studied, and the scoping hearings will be the public’s first official chance to say what potential terminal impacts should be scrutinized.
In addition to public outreach, the governmental agencies plan to constrict the amount of contact SSA Marine will have with the consultant after they are chosen to conduct the EIS. However, SSA Marine and the governmental agencies will mutually agree upon the final choice of consultant, so the terminal company will have some say in whichever consultant is eventually chosen.
The request for proposals did not give an estimate for how long the environmental review process might take, but the review of a smaller SSA Marine terminal project started in 1992 and slated for Cherry Point took five years. This project was never built due to an appeal of the terminal company’s permits from a number of state agencies and environmental groups. This appeal is still active and lists a handful of studies SSA Marine must complete before terminal construction can begin.
In 1992, SSA Marine applied for permits for a 180-acre facility proposed to handle 8.2 million tons of dry cargo per year and received these permits in 1997. The currently proposed terminal will be a 350-acre facility that could handle as much as 54 million tons of commodities per year including coal, which was not included as a potential commodity in the original 1997 permit.
For more information on the request for proposals, contact county planning supervisor Tyler Schroeder at TSchroed@co.whatcom.wa.us or 360/676-6907 ext. 50202 or visit the county's website.