Whatcom County starts search for Cherry Point terminal study consultants

Published on Fri, Jan 6, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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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, released a “request for proposals” in which they detailed 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 (click here for a PDF of the document) 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 EIS process will be jointly overseen by Whatcom County planning officials, the Washington State Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (collectively referred to as “the agencies”).

In addition to describing a number of interesting tidbits about the project, the request lists organizing a minimum of three public scoping hearings and a minimum of three public hearings on the draft version of the EIS as one of the many requirements a consulting firm must complete as part of 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 suggest what potential terminal impacts should be scrutinized. The following requirement speaks to the level of transparency county planning officials are expecting during the EIS process:

“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.”

Another requirement worth mentioning is that county planning officials will constrict the amount of contact SSA Marine has with the consultant after they are chosen to perform the EIS. I’ve seen these concerns come up in the projected-related email correspondence county planning staff post here. Here are the pertinent passages from the request for proposals document:

“The Agencies intends to select a Consultant who is fully qualified, responsible, stable, and who can provide satisfactory service. The Agencies will be the sole judge of whether or not a Consultant is considered to be fully qualified and responsible for purpose of the required services.”

“Other than direct contact on administrative or contract matters, Consultant will have no direct contact with [SSA Marine] or [Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway] personnel without approval of the Agencies’ representatives.”

The proposal also says SSA Marine representatives will be present for, though not participatory in, the interview process for the consultant. However, the governmental agencies involved and SSA Marine will mutually agree upon the final choice of consultant, meaning SSA Marine will have at least some say in whatever consultant is eventually chosen.

A few more items of note: the request for proposal document lists what terminal impacts, at a minimum, will be studied in the EIS. These impacts are:

· Impacts to aquatic habitat and species, including listed species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)

· Impacts resulting from fill of wetlands and offsetting wetland mitigation

· Transportation and rail traffic impacts analysis

· Vessel traffic and potential risk of accident and spill on routes to the marine terminal

· Fugitive dust impacts related to bulk materials handling and rail transportation

· Tribal fishing rights and impacts to fisheries

· Air quality impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions

· Impacts to human health

· Impacts to cultural, historical and archaeological resources

· Other issues identified through the Scoping process and in response to comments received regarding the Draft EIS (DEIS).

With these minimum requirements laid out, it’s clear this EIS is not going to be a small document. The request for proposals did not give an estimate on how long the EIS process might take, but five years passed (1992-1997) from when SSA Marine applied for and eventually received a final decision on a smaller Cherry Point terminal project that ultimately was not built.

In 1992, SSA Marine applied for and later received in 1997 permits for a 180-acre facility that was proposed to handle 8.2 million tons of dry cargo per year. 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.

Chances are members of the public will have at least two or three months before they can even comment on the scope of the EIS. As I reported here, county planning officials recently granted a 90-day deadline extension to SSA Marine for the two county permits needed for the project to proceed. It's the terminal company’s submission of these two permits that triggers the start of the environmental review, which will start with the scoping process.


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