Whatcom County Council has approved a contract with a Colorado-based environmental consulting firm to produce the massive environmental review of the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT).
County planning staff announced last week they had chosen CH2M Hill to take on the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the $600 million GPT proposed for the Cherry Point industrial area just south of Birch Bay. CH2M Hill was one of seven firms to submit bids for the EIS after county planning staff issued a request for bids in January.
County council members unanimously approved a contract with CH2M Hill after making two last-minute changes to the document at Tuesday’s council meeting. The contract amendments came in response to intense public criticism over what county residents saw as deficiencies in the contract as county planning staff presented it late last week.
“We’ve heard what the people of Whatcom County want,” said council member Sam Crawford, who presented one of the two contract amendments. “Our job is to represent them.”
Crawford and council member Ken Mann presented two changes addressing concerns expressed by the public. “It’s really important to get this right,” said former county planning director David Stalheim, whose letter to the council critiquing the contract appeared to influence many of the residents who spoke at the council meeting.
The contract changes the council approved were twofold: One extended the 60-day public comment period for determining what should be studied in the EIS, called the scoping process, to 120 days. The 120-day figure was a common refrain among community members airing their concerns about the original contract.
“It’s really important we get good information and allow enough time [to study it], Bellingham resident Dan McShane said.
The second change strengthened language in the contract regarding possible conflicts of interests between the county, CH2M Hill and Seattle-based SSA Marine, the terminal’s proponents. Stalheim and others feared the original contract language would have allowed CH2M Hill to act as proponent for SSA Marine for projects other than the Gateway Pacific Terminal.
Mann assured the community that the contract now prevents CH2M Hill from entering into any agreement with SSA Marine during the length of the scoping contract, which should be finished near the end of 2013.
According to the contract, CH2M Hill will partner with at least 12 subcontractors whose expertise ranges from rail operations and cultural and tribal issues to freight train vibration and marine vessel traffic. County planning manager Tyler Schroeder said CH2M Hill was chosen because of their extensive experience with EIS processes across the country.
Schroeder expects the scoping process to begin in earnest four to six weeks from now. SSA Marine will reimburse the county for the $961,703 paid to CH2M Hill over the course of the contract, Schroeder added.