Gateway Pacific Terminal
Gateway Pacific Terminal is a proposed terminal at Cherry Point near Ferndale, Washington. It would export dry bulk commodities to Asian markets at a maximum capacity of about 54 million tonnes, mainly coal (48 million tonnes per year). On February 28, 2011, SSA Marine - which is 49% owned by Goldman Sachs - applied for state and federal permits for the $500 million terminal, triggering formal environmental review.
The project is currently completing its draft environmental impact statement (EIS), due in 2016. A final EIS is due in 2017, after public comment. The project's permitting process can be followed here.
- 1 Location
- 2 Project Details
- 3 Permitting
- 4 Peabody signs deal for exports to Asia
- 5 Early History
- 6 Environmental Impact
- 7 Citizen Action
- 7.1 April 2011: Public Debate on Cherry Point Coal Terminal
- 7.2 May 2011: Bellingham Mayor takes heat from anti-coal community
- 7.3 June 2011: Coal terminal foes dominate Bellingham hearing
- 7.4 June 2011: Bellingham Mayor opposes Gateway Pacific Terminal project
- 7.5 June 2011: Whatcom County rejects Gateway Pacific cargo permit
- 7.6 July 2011: Public meeting discusses Cherry Point coal terminal project
- 7.7 July 2011: State to help handle a coal port proposal
- 7.8 August 2011: Doctors oppose coal terminal
- 7.9 August 2011: SSA Marine builds illegal coal terminal road
- 7.10 September 2011: Activists shine a light on Washington Coal Ports in Seattle
- 7.11 October 2011: Group to sue SSA Marine over land clearing for Cherry Point project
- 7.12 October 2011: Spokane environmentalists upset over coal trains
- 7.13 November 2011: 13 State Senators ask State to look at coal train impacts
- 7.14 December 2011: University students oppose proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal
- 7.15 December 2011: Montana youth call for a week of anti-coal export actions
- 7.16 April 2012: Oregon Gov. calls for review of coal export impacts
- 7.17 May 2012: Activists rally in Portland against exporting coal from Northwest ports
- 7.18 May 2012: Seattle City Council opposes coal export ports
- 7.19 May 2012: Washington state Democrats pass export resolutions
- 8 Articles and resources
The terminal would be located at Cherry Point, about 17 miles south of the Canadian border.
- Sponsor: SSA Marine
- Location: Cherry Point near Ferndale, Washington
- Proposed Coal Capacity (Million tonnes per annum): 48
- Status: Proposed
- Type: Exports
- Cost: US$500 million
The environmental review process for the Gateway Pacific cargo terminal at Cherry Point began officially on Feb. 28, 2011, when SSA Marine submitted preliminary documents on the $500 million project to Whatcom County, state agencies and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Pacific International Terminals, a subsidiary of SSA Marine, proposed building a deep-water marine terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County. The proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal would handle import and export of up to 54 million dry metric tons per year of bulk commodities, mostly exporting coal. The site, between the BP Cherry Point oil refinery and the Alcoa Intalco Works aluminum smelter, has been zoned industrial for many years, and land use regulations on the site envision eventual construction of the type of pier that SSA is proposing. Bob Watters, an SSA Marine vice president, said he's confident that the study process won't uncover any environmental issues that are too serious or too costly to overcome, but the project won't have certainty until the study phase is complete in about two years.
In a letter to the Whatcom Council of Governments, Bob Ferris, executive director of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, contended that the terminal's most likely use is for coal exports, and coal trains through the city would mean traffic disruptions, public spending on safety improvements, lost property values, disruption of business activity, and pollution from both coal dust and diesel locomotive exhaust. His letter also notes that Council of Goverments members are likely to face "extreme political pressures" as the process moves ahead.
If the environmental review and permitting process goes through, SSA would then also need to obtain a lease from the Washington Department of Natural Resources, which manages the state's waters, before beginning construction in early 2013 and beginning operations in 2015. At that point, SSA would have a pier capable of handling as many as three large vessels at a time, loading bulk commodities such as coal, potash, calcined petroleum coke and grain for shipment to Asian markets. Watters acknowledged that at full capacity, the terminal could draw as many as nine loaded trains per day through Bellingham, and they would then head back through the city after unloading.
During the week of June 6-10, 2011 SSA Marine filed a permit application the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal. The application read:
"The applications submitted herein will cover the difference in scope between that approved project and our full buildout plan."
The earlier permit was noted in the application was approved by the Whatcom County Council in 1997. At that time, it envisioned a 180-acre development that would handle 8.2 million tons of cargoes per year, including petroleum coke (produced by local refineries) iron ore, sulfur, potash and wood chips. Coal was not mentioned an an export commodity in the earlier permit.
Later in June 2011, Whatcom County officials announced that SSA must apply for a new permit for its proposed Gateway Terminal.
The environmental review process began in 2012 and will continue through 2015. A timeline of the process is available here.
Draft environmental impact statements for the project are expected to be completed in mid-2015, after which the public will be invited to review and comment on the documents and participate in public hearings.
On April 1, 2016, the sponsor for the Gateway Pacific Terminal invoked its contractual right to temporarily suspend work on the environmental review (EIS) process while continuing to wait for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue its separate decision relating to the treaty rights of the Lummi Tribe. On January 5, 2015, the Lummi Nation requested the Corps to deny permits for Gateway based upon the project's impacts to their treaty-protected fishing rights.
Peabody signs deal for exports to Asia
On March 1, 2011, Seattle-based SSA Marine announced it had entered into an agreement with St. Louis-based Peabody Energy to export up to 24 million metric tons of coal per year through the Gateway Pacific Terminal. According to peabody, the terminal in Whatcom County would serve as the West Coast hub for exporting Peabody's coal from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana to Asian markets. The project would ramp up potential U.S. coal exports to Asia from Washington state. Another coal export terminal proposed in Longview, the Millennium Bulk Logistics Longview Terminal in southwest Washington, has drawn environmental opposition. That Millennium Bulk Logistics terminal would be a joint venture between Australia-based Ambre Energy and Arch Coal.
Environmental groups have appealed to Washington's Shoreline Hearings Board over a permit awarded for the port by Cowlitz County commissioners.
According to Gateway Pacific Terminal's website the company plans on providing a "highly efficient portal for American producers to export dry bulk commodities such as grain, potash and coal to Asian markets." Additionally, the site contends that the "Gateway project will generate about 4,000 jobs and about $54 million a year in tax revenue for state and local services. Once in full operation, it's estimated that Gateway will provide almost $10 million a year in tax revenue, create about 280 permanent family-wage jobs directly, and nearly 1,400 additional jobs through terminal purchases and employee spending."
In May 2011 Arch Coal announced that it was establishing a new subsidiary, Arch Coal Asia-Pacific Pte. Ltd., and named Renato Paladino president. A press release stated that Paladino will be responsible for Asia-Pacific regional business development, marketing and sales of thermal and metallurgical products, and regional supply chain expansion for the company. The new office will be located in Singapore.
According to the website of SSA Marine, the private cargo handling company pursuing the terminal, SSA entered into a joint venture with Westar Management's Westshore Terminals in 1990 to develop the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point. In 1993, Canadian billionaire Jim Pattison took over management control of Westar, including its Westshore Terminals in British Columbia, and by 1997 had privatized the company.
During a meeting on May 19, 2011 grain producers and shippers gathered at the Silver Reef Hotel and Casino Pavilion to learn about SSA Marine's plans for the Gateway Pacific Terminal project at Cherry Point. SSA was the sponsor the event. During the meeting SSA insisted that the port development would include grain shipment capabilities, which would open up the grain belt to Asian markets. SSA claimed that a demand for U.S. grain will soar in the years ahead and U.S. farmers will need more West Coast port capacity to meet that growing demand.
In July 2013 the three co-lead agencies in charge of reviewing the environmental impact of the Gateway Pacific coal export terminal at Cherry Point, Washington published their reviews. As reported by Sightline, "One of those agencies, Washington Department of Ecology, has now required in-depth analysis of four elements that the coal industry had desperately hoped to avoid":
- A detailed assessment of rail transportation on other representative communities in Washington and a general analysis of out-of-state rail impacts.
- An assessment of how the project would affect human health in Washington.
- A general assessment of cargo-ship impacts beyond Washington waters.
- An evaluation and disclosure of greenhouse gas emissions of end-use coal combustion.
Eric de Place and Clark Williams-Derry commented, "Of those, two stand to be particularly damaging for would-be coal exporters: rail impacts and greenhouse gas emissions. There’s not a lot of wiggle room with either of those elements."
April 2011: Public Debate on Cherry Point Coal Terminal
On April 27, 2011 a debate on the proposed port terminal at Cherry Point was held at the Bellingham City Club drew a crowed of 350 people. Supporters of the proposed $400 million project at addressed job creation — up to 213 to 280 permanent longshore jobs they stated. Opponents, an increasing segment of the city, want to talk about the impact of an additional 18 to 20 trains every day, a mile-and-a-half long and very loud and heavy, running through some of the city's most valuable property.
"We have established an industrial area for a reason, to generate high wage jobs that fuel our economy," said Craig Cole, a Bellingham business leader, University of Washington regent and consultant to the terminal's builder SSA Marine.
But Bob Ferris, a project opponent, warned that the terminal would bring mile-and-a-half-long trains through Bellingham -- "30 miles of additional trains a day" -- and do local and global environmental damage.
"Coal is, bar none, the worst fossil fuel on the planet," said Ferris, a Whatcom County newcomer and leader of a group called Resources for Sustainable Communities. Ferris also noted that an increase in train traffic through Bellingham could bring "30 miles of additional trains a day".
May 2011: Bellingham Mayor takes heat from anti-coal community
On May 4, during a public forum on the proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point in Bellingham, Washington, City Mayor Dan Pike drew criticism from anti-coal activists in the community for staying neutral on the controversial plan to ship tons of coal through the town. When asked whether he supported allowing the coal trains in Whatcom County, Pike stated he would not take a stand for or against because it was a complex question that had to do with national policy.
In response, one angry audience member shouted from the back of the room: “You’re a wimp.” More than 200 people packed into the Bellingham High School commons to attend the forum put on by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Climate Solutions and the Sierra Club. The majority of those in attendance seemed to be in opposition to the mine.
June 2011: Coal terminal foes dominate Bellingham hearing
On June 1, 2011, more than 300 people turned out for Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike's community meeting to discuss concerns about the environmental effects from the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal and bulk cargo export terminal at Cherry Point.
Most of those who spoke at the meeting stated their determined opposition to the Gateway Pacific project for a wide range of reasons: health effects from coal dust and ship and locomotive emissions; climate change from the burning of exported coal in China; disruption of waterfront redevelopment plans because of excessive train traffic through the city; reduced property values from railroad dirt and noise; and a black eye for Bellingham's image as a green community.
June 2011: Bellingham Mayor opposes Gateway Pacific Terminal project
In a press release in early June 2011 Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike stated that he was coming out in opposition to the Cherry Point port expansion. Mayor Pike wrote:
- My team and I met recently with representatives of SSA Marine and their main business partners, the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Railroad. I hoped they would bring to the conversation recognition that their proposed project would have multiple downsides for our community. I hoped they would make a commitment to provide meaningful mitigations — or even better– a willingness consider other commodities, and not rely exclusively on coal exports for the terminal’s financial engine.
- Instead, these proponents brought denial of any potential harms and blatant defiance that they should change their plans in any way. In fact, it has become public knowledge that they have signed a multi-year deal with Montana’s Peabody Coal to ship at least 24 million tons of coal from our sensitive shores as their major focus of business for the foreseeable future.
- That is not a future that I want to see. By any calculation, the proposed coal-dependent terminal at Cherry Point does not add up.
June 2011: Whatcom County rejects Gateway Pacific cargo permit
In June 2011 it was announced that developers of the Gateway Pacific Terminal must apply for a new shoreline permit if they want to build a facility capable of handling up to 54 million tons of cargo a year, including coal. The decision came from Whatcom County planners and was a setback to SSA Marine which proposed to build the terminal at Cherry Point, Washington. SSA Marine holds a 1997 permit for a smaller facility that could handle up to 8.2 million tons of cargo a year, not including coal. The company argued that the larger coal export facility would require processing the application as a "revision" to the existing permit, and that the revisions would undergo the same level of scrutiny as a new application.
Environmental groups represented by Earthjustice stated that the application as a revision would require less public scrutiny and would mean the project could avoid tough environmental standards because it would be reviewed under 1992 shorelines laws instead of more recent ones. The groups included Sierra Club, Climate Solutions, and ReSources for Sustainable Communities.
Whatcom County sent the letter announcing their decision on June 23, 2011. The letter, from county Planning Supervisor Tyler Schroeder, said a new shorelines permit is required under county law because the new proposal is "beyond the scope and intent of the original approval." County code requires that it meet that standard for a permit revision, he said.
July 2011: Public meeting discusses Cherry Point coal terminal project
On July 7, 2011 more than 300 residents turned out for a forum at Lincoln Theatre in Mount Vernon, Washington to discuss the construction of a $600 million cargo terminal at Cherry Point in Bellingham. The facility would bring an estimated 18 more trains a day carrying coal shipments would cross Skagit and Whatcom counties to the new facility.
The forum was organized by environmental groups from Skagit County and the region, who said allowing the project to go through would cause local traffic problems, create air pollution and contribute to global warming.
July 2011: State to help handle a coal port proposal
It was reported on July 19, 2011 that The Washington Department of Ecology was to step in and help with the environmental review of a proposed Cherry Point coal terminal project, and assume a co-lead role on the review at the request of Whatcom County, which has the statutory responsibility to do the environmental assessment. It was a step sought by opponents of the coal terminal who feared having the study under the sole control of Whatcom County. Whatcom County had also asked the state for assistance.
August 2011: Doctors oppose coal terminal
In August 2011 it was reported that 160 doctors and health professionals in the Bellingham area signed a letter expressing concern about pollution from a proposed new terminal near them that would also export coal. The group, calling itself Whatcom Docs, contended that both coal dust and diesel emissions from trains and ships have been shown to have harmful impacts on human health. The group stated that they want a specific study on how Gateway Pacific, proposed by SSA Marine of Seattle, would impact health in Whatcom County and other places along the rail line.
August 2011: SSA Marine builds illegal coal terminal road
It was reported on August 1, 2011 that Washington State's Whatcom County prepared to fine Seattle-based company SSA Marine after it claimed the company built a series of roads through sensitive woodlands without a proper permit.
The company stated its two miles of dirt road it built was necessary to allow heavy equipment to conduct environmental impact studies in the area of the proposed terminal.
A company spokesman says SSA Marine stated it was permitted to build the roads based on a permit it received for a separate terminal in 1997.
In August 2011 the Department of Natural Resources confirmed that crews worked for SSA Marine had illegally cleared forestland without a permit, Whatcom County must impose a six-year development moratorium on the property, according to environmental attorneys opposed to the project.
SSA Marine's crews cleared land there without permits recently, and the company apologized. It was fined by Whatcom County. The DNR recently issued a notice to comply, saying the company didn’t have the required Forest Practices Application/Notification before doing the work.
According to a letter from an attorney for Earthjustice to Whatcom County planners, the county must impose a development ban on the SSA project for six years. Earthjustice stated that county code requires the ban after forest clearing is done without a permit. The result of the ban is that the county cannot accept an application for a project. As of August 16, 2011 Whatcom County had not decided on what sanctions, if any, they will impose on SSA Marine.
September 2011: Activists shine a light on Washington Coal Ports in Seattle
In September 2011 activists in Seattle shined a spotlight with a mountain background that stated, "Keep Washington Beautiful, No Coal Exports." The group, including at least on RAN activist, shined the stenciled spotlight on iconic images around the city, including the Space Needle. The group said they were protesting the proposed coal export terminals in the state, including Millennium Bulk Logistics Longview Terminal in Longview and Gateway Pacific Terminal near Ferndale, Washington.
October 2011: Group to sue SSA Marine over land clearing for Cherry Point project
It was announced in October 2011 that RE Sources for Sustainable Communities filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue Pacific International Terminals, Inc., SSA Marine's subsidiary corporation that was created to develop the proposed shipping terminal at Cherry Point.
RE Sources Executive Director Bob Ferris contended that SSA Marine violated the Clean Water Act when it cleared trees on the terminal site. Company spokesmen have admitted that the company was wrong in clearing roadways for geotechnical drilling equipment without obtaining permits to do so.
October 2011: Spokane environmentalists upset over coal trains
In October 2011 concerned environmental groups in the Spokane, Washington area held a public forum about coal trains in that are to travel through the area. The groups began speaking out about proposals that could see dozens of trains loaded with coal destined for Asia move through the city every day. The groups fear that coal dust and increased diesel emissions will damage human health, while increased rail traffic will make for more dangerous intersections. The Sierra Club was involved in raising public awareness and organizing the forum.
November 2011: 13 State Senators ask State to look at coal train impacts
In November 2011, 13 Washington State Senators wrote a joint letter to the Washington State DOE and Whatcom County. In their letter the senators point to potential problems including health related and adverse economic impacts that could be felt by the communities along the rail corridor which includes most of the states population. The senators explicitly request that the process examine these issues.
December 2011: University students oppose proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal
On December 1, 2011 it was announced that the Western Washington's Associated Students (AS) board of directors voted 4-3 in opposition of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal. The Western Action Coalition is a student environmental group at the university and reorganized as AS in October 2011. The University of Puget Sound-Tacoma passed its own resolution opposing the project on October 20, 2011. Students at other universities, such as Evergreen State College in Olympia, were reported as working on similar resolutions.
December 2011: Montana youth call for a week of anti-coal export actions
In December 2011, students at the University of Montana called for a week of actions against coal in Missoula to occur in February 2012. For the blog "It's Getting Hot in Here", Nick Engelfried wrote:
"We, youth climate activists at the University of Montana, are calling for a regional weekend of action to protect the greater Northwest from coal exports. The action will coincide with the weekend of Rocky Mountain Power Shift, February 17th-19th. That weekend, hundreds of youth climate activists will converge on the University of Montana campus to exchange success stories, hear from movement leaders, learn from each other, and take action to promote solutions to climate change.
"On Sunday, Feb 19th, we will march through downtown Missoula to protest an increase in coal exports (this action is not officially endorsed by Power Shift in any way). We will draw attention to key politicians and industries who are financing and pushing coal export proposals."
April 2012: Oregon Gov. calls for review of coal export impacts
In April 2012 Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber stated that he wants an extensive federal government review of exporting coal to Asia through Northwest ports. The Governor said that coal exports could clog barge and train routes, increase diesel and coal dust pollution and boost amounts of toxic mercury drifting back to Oregon when Asian countries burn the coal.
However, Kitzhaber didn't take a stand for or against exporting coal, which supporters say would increase rural jobs and tax revenues in Oregon and Washington. Instead, his letter asked the federal government to address how increasing exports to Asia will "fit with the larger strategy of moving to a lower carbon future."
May 2012: Activists rally in Portland against exporting coal from Northwest ports
On May 7, 2012 several hundred activists gathered in Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square to oppose the export of Montana and Wyoming coal from Northwest ports. Activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., chief prosecuting attorney for Hudson Riverkeeper and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, spoke to the crowd. Kennedy said that coal would corrupt politicians, damage health and the environment and "turn government agencies into the sock puppets of the industries they're supposed to regulate."
May 2012: Seattle City Council opposes coal export ports
On May 29, 2012 the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing the development of coal-export terminals in Washington state after raising concerns about increased train traffic and potential harm to health and the environment.
May 2012: Washington state Democrats pass export resolutions
In May 2012 Democrats in Washington passed two resolutions on coal exports in the state. One, submitted by San Juan County, asked Democrats to oppose construction of the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point. The second passed which called for a programmatic environmental impact statement to be conducted to study the potential impacts of building coal-exporting terminals throughout the Pacific Northwest, rather than one project-specific study looking at the Gateway Pacific Terminal project.
Articles and resources
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- "Gateway Pacific permit application now available online" John Stark, The Bellingham Herald, June 14, 2011.
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- "EISs for the Proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal and Custer Spur Projects Begins," Combined NEPA/SEPA Process, accessed July 2014.
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- "Short-line railroad floats third coal export terminal proposal in Wash." Tom Banse, KPLU.org, August 10, 2011.
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- "AS board opposes terminal: Resolution passes with 4-3 vote" Audra Howerton, The Western Front, December 2, 2011.
- "Montana Youth Call for a Weekend of Action Against Coal Exports" Nick Engelfried, It's Getting Hot in Here, December 12, 2011.
- "Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber calls for sweeping review of planned coal exports from Northwest ports" Scott Learn, The Oregonian, April 25, 2012.
- "Kennedy, activists rally in Portland against exporting coal from Northwest ports" Scott Learn, Oregonian, May 7, 2012.
- "Seattle City Council opposes coal-export ports" Phoung Lee, Associated Press, May 30, 2012.
- "At state convention, Democrats pass resolutions on coal-exporting terminals" Jared Paben, Bellingham Herald, June 4, 2012.
- "The Proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal," Communitywise Bellingham, June 2015.