Whatcom County officials: Cherry Point permit paperwork now complete

Published on Wed, Apr 4, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Whatcom County’s planning supervisor has declared the permit applications for the Gateway Pacific Terminal project complete, starting the clock for an extensive environmental review process that will begin this summer.

Seattle-based port terminal company SSA Marine submitted more than 300 pages of permit documentation to county planning officials on March 19, after receiving a deadline extension from county planning officials in December. County planning supervisor Tyler Schroeder told Skip Sahlin, SSA vice president and terminal project manager, the permit applications were complete in a letter dated April 2.

“The purpose of this letter is to inform you that the [necessary] applications revised and submitted on March 19 have been determined to be complete as required by Whatcom County Code,” Schroeder wrote.

The county still needs to issue a determination of significance, which will require the terminal project to undergo the environmental impact statement (EIS) process. According to Schroeder, the county plans to issue this notice “in the near future” in a joint announcement with the Washington State Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The $655 million Gateway Pacific Terminal project, slated for the Cherry Point industrial area just south of Birch Bay, will be able to offload up to 48 million tons of coal and other dry bulk materials per year from rail cars to bulk carriers. County, state and federal regulators will require an extensive environmental review of the project, preliminary public meetings for which are tentatively scheduled to start this summer.

The project has encountered intense public criticism from concerned citizens as far as Seattle, Spokane and other states in the western U.S. Various citizen groups have called for scrutiny of the possible impacts increased rail traffic could have on the health and economic well-being of communities along the rail line.

The terminal project requires two permits from Whatcom County: a major project development permit and a shoreline substantial development permit, required for major projects that are within 200 feet of the shoreline.

County hearing examiner Michael Bobbink needs to approve the shoreline permit but only provides a recommendation to Whatcom County Council on the major development permit. Council will be required to approve or deny the permit.

The county had previously authorized a much smaller terminal project that did not involve coal in 1992. The plans were for a 180-acre facility that would handle 8.2 million tons of dry cargo per year.

SSA Marine submitted revisions to these permits last June that described the full build-out of the terminal: a 350-acre facility that could handle as much as 48 million tons of commodities per year. County planning officials rejected these revisions and required brand new permits for the expanded terminal project.