Agencies gathering input before review of Cherry Point export terminal proposal
SEATTLE – The three agencies gathering public comment on the scope of an upcoming environmental impact statement (EIS) for a proposed bulk-cargo shipping terminal and rail spur improvements at Cherry Point have modified the speaker selection process at two upcoming public meetings to accommodate high public interest.
People interested in speaking at the verbal comment sessions in audience halls at next week’s meetings in Vancouver, Wash., and Seattle will enter random drawings for about 150 two-minute speaking slots at each event. The drawings will occur at the start of each hour during the three-hour public meetings. People can enter the drawings at any time before the final drawing.
The drawings replace a process at five previous meetings that assigned speaking slots based on the order in which people arrived. This prompted many attendees to arrive hours before the meetings.
The scoping process and the meetings provide several ways for people to comment. The Vancouver and Seattle meetings will have two concurrent verbal comment sessions in audience halls, which will provide more opportunities for people to speak publically. People also may submit written comments or record verbal comments at individual recording stations.
Aside from the meetings, people may comment online, by email or by letter.
Pacific International Terminals, a subsidiary of SSA Marine Inc. (SSA), proposes to build and operate the Gateway Pacific Terminal between Ferndale and Blaine. The terminal would provide storage and handling of exported and imported dry bulk commodities, including coal, grain, iron ore, salts and alumina. BNSF Railway Inc. proposes to add rail facilities and install a second track along the six-mile Custer Spur.
Whatcom County, the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) together are conducting the EIS process for the proposed terminal projects and will jointly produce one EIS. Whatcom County and Ecology must follow the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), and the Corps must follow the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Scoping is a preliminary phase of the EIS process when the agencies identify potential adverse impacts to decide what impacts to analyze in the EIS. The three lead agencies are gathering input from other agencies, tribes and the public. After considering comments, the lead agencies will decide what should be included in the EIS.
The EIS will evaluate the adverse impacts of various alternatives and explores possible mitigation to reduce the impacts.
In all, the lead agencies are hosting seven scoping meetings, during which staff will be available to answer questions and people can view information about the proposed projects and have opportunities to provide oral or written comments. There is no formal presentation, and people may arrive and leave as they choose during the meeting hours.
The meetings also include staffed informational displays and non-audience comment areas where people can record comments orally or submit them in writing.
A 120-day comment period for the NEPA/SEPA EIS scoping process began Sept. 24, 2012, and ends Jan. 21, 2013. So far, the three agencies have received nearly 9,000 comments.
The first five meetings, in Bellingham, Friday Harbor, Mount Vernon, Ferndale and Spokane drew 1,800, 450, 1,000, 1,300 and 850 attendees, respectively.
The remaining two meetings are scheduled as follows:
- Vancouver: Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012; 4 to 7 p.m.; Clark College, Gaiser Student Center, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way
- Seattle: Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012; 4 to 7 p.m.; Washington State Convention Center, 800 Convention Place, Ballroom 6F
The Vancouver facility overall capacity is 800, and Seattle’s is 3,500. When facilities reach capacity, additional people cannot be admitted.
Doors will open at 3:30 p.m. for people to take seats and to enter the drawings to speak at either of the two audience halls at each meeting. Drawings will take place at 4, 5 and 6 p.m. at each comment hall.
In Vancouver, access to the meeting will be at the entrance to Clark College’s Penguin Union Building.
In Seattle, access to the Convention Center’s sixth floor will be available after 3 p.m., with space provided for a waiting line in Ballroom 6F at that time.
In addition to attending or speaking at the public meetings, people may comment at any time, with no limit to the length or number of comments, during the comment period:
There is no distinction involving the method used to make comments.
The official website, www.eisgatewaypacificwa.gov , provides additional details about the scoping process and meetings, the project proposals, and displays the comments received.
The joint NEPA/SEPA EIS process enables the co-lead agencies to avoid duplicated efforts where the two laws overlap, while meeting each statute’s separate requirements. Parts of the joint EIS process described on the website apply to both statutes and parts apply to one or the other.
In scoping, the lead agencies seek comments that will guide their decision on how the EIS will address:
- A reasonable range of alternatives for the proposals.
- Potentially affected resources and the extent to which the EIS should analyze those resources.
- Identifying significant unavoidable adverse impacts.
- Measures to avoid, minimize and mitigate effects caused by the proposals.
The scoping process does not address whether the proposal should receive permits. Scoping only helps define what will be studied in the EIS. Decisions about issuing permits to construct the proposed projects will not be made until after the EIS is complete.
Later in 2013, after the comment period, the lead agencies will issue a scoping report and begin work on a draft EIS, which may take at least a year to prepare. The lead agencies will seek public comment on the draft EIS, and then produce a final NEPA/SEPA EIS.