Coal port traffic controversy continues
Source: Steve Wehrly, Islands Sounder
Coal isn't the only fuel firing the first stage of the Gateway Pacific Terminal protest.
Bunker fuel spills, noise pollution, and bilge and ballast water contamination were three of more than two dozen detrimental impacts listed at a recent workshop. The scoping workshop put on by Power Past Coal, a coalition of environmental and community groups, and Friends of the San Juans was held Thursday, Oct. 25, in Friday Harbor. A similar event on Lopez drew about 60 people the day before, and another 60 people were expected for an evening workshop on Orcas Island following the Friday Harbor meeting.
Dick and Janet Wright, of San Juan Island, had immediate responses to the “Why are you here today?” question.
“Irreparable damage to the ecosystem,” said Dick.
“We could witness a totally changed Northwest culture,” said Janet. “We’ve lived here for 40 years and have never seen anything that threatened our lives like this.”
The workshops were part of preparations for a Nov. 3 scoping meeting in Friday Harbor and the 120-day scoping comment period announced recently by the Army Corps of Engineers, Whatcom County and the Washington Department of Ecology. These are the three “co-lead agencies” responsible for producing an Environmental Impact Statement studying impacts of the Cherry Point bulk loading terminal near Ferndale proposed by SSA Marine, the Seattle port facilities operator.
Those three agencies previously determined that plans for the export facility must undergo a full environmental review by federal, state and local officials before development permits would be issued.
That review, as set out by the National Environmental Policy Act and the state Environmental Policy Act, requires evaluation of the project’s potential impacts through development of an EIS, which incorporates comments submitted at the series of four regional meetings, online, or by letters to any of the three agencies.
If approved, the $650 million Gateway Terminal would be the largest bulk export facility on the West Coast. At full capacity, it would be capable of exporting up to 54 million metric tons of coal per year, shipped by rail from Montana and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin on coal-train caravans, each more than a mile long, that would circulate through the facility daily. The coal would then be carried through the Salish Sea and the waters of the San Juan Islands by as many as 480 jumbo-sized container ships, the smallest of which are more than three football fields in length, each year to Asian markets, where it would be used for fuel.
Scientist Val Veirs, a retired physics professor who has listened to and watched killer whales and ships in Haro Strait for 10 years, wants to make sure that science informs and influences the government deciders who will consider the noise impacts that increased ship traffic might have on the endangered population of killer whales.
Veirs doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, but he’s confident that he and his scientific colleagues, including state natural resources officials and federal fisheries experts, have good data and are developing even more that should lead to decisions that will protect the whales.
“I just want to make sure that the knowledge we’ve developed on whales, noise and ship traffic is given the level of consideration that our science deserves,” he said.
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