Sunday, June 5, 2011

Access to Gateway Pacific/Cherry Point Documents

Spoiler alert: This blog entry does, eventually, live up to its billing – it will indeed provide access to some of the Gateway Pacific documents that are more-or-less publicly available. But first, a little question and answer session.

1. Why is there a picture of an ostrich with its head in the sand?

Because that’s how the public agencies are acting. They seem to believe that the public will leave them alone if they pretend that agencies aren’t already working on the Gateway Pacific project.

2. What do you mean, agencies are already working on the Gateway Pacific project? I thought that the permit process hadn’t started yet.

There’s a quasi-public record of meetings that started in November 2010. On November 16, 2010, a “Multiagency Permitting” Team (“MAP Team”) started meeting. Here’s a link to the sign-in sheet, and here are notes of the first meeting. Here's a list of MAP Team members.

3. What’s a “quasi-public” record?

Agency documents (at least some of them, but more on that later) have been posted to a state-run web site. Here’s the link:

You’ll see something unusual on that portal. It says “For public access to the Gateway Pacific Terminal MAP Team Web site please contact Scott Boettcher by email at”

When I signed in, I didn’t feel like contacting Scott Boettcher by e-mail. I felt like looking at public documents. So I tried to log in, couldn’t get access to anything, and said to heck with it.

Several days later, Scott Boettcher contacted me!

Hi Jean. You now have access to the GPT Project Web site. You can log in more directly through This should put you on the Welcome page right after you log in. Look forward to hearing from you about this website. Thank you for your effort to register and seek access to the site.


Scott sounds like a pleasant fellow, but I didn’t write back to let him know how I felt about the web site. This would be because I not feeling positive about having to make an “effort” to register, and to “seek” access to the site.

4. So now you have access, right? Why are you complaining?

I don’t think that a firewall between public documents and the public is a good idea. Some of the reasons are in this letter, submitted by Salish Land Policy Solutions.

Another reason came out of a conversation with someone who has approached the state to ask why they put up this firewall. “We like to see who’s looking at the documents” was the response.

It’s none of Big Brother’s business.

5. Hey, where would the Gateway Pacific project be built, anyway?

Right here in Whatcom County.

6. So why doesn’t Whatcom County post these public documents on its web site, so the people of Whatcom County don’t have to meet Scott Boettcher in order to look at them?

Excellent question! And one that I asked, too! The County’s response was that it would not start a web site until it obtained a project application.

7. What’s wrong with that?

Technically, nothing, I suppose. The County isn’t required to provide public access to documents unless the public requests those documents. HINT! HINT!

But really, Ostrich County. Has nobody in County government seen the full page ads promoting the project? Heard the radio ads? Noticed that a City forum attracted hundreds of people, with hundreds more turned away? Is this not a current issue?

Furthermore, Whatcom County has been participating in the MAP Team from the beginning.

Furthermore, Whatcom County submitted ONE—count ‘em, ONE – e-mail from a County resident to the MAP Team for posting. I hear that the county has received well in excess of 300 e-mails on this topic, but it forwarded this ONE e-mail. Here it is.

The County would not want the agencies involved in the MAP Team to believe that this ONE e-mail encapsulated the views of all Whatcom County residents. Would it? That’s why I suggested that the County might want to start its own web site: to provide broader access AND to ensure that all comments are treated equally.

8. So who would I contact at the County to comment on the project, or request a project web site?

Another excellent question!

Comments or questions about the project:

Roland Middleton (project manager):

County Executive Pete Kremen:

Comments on “scoping” or environmental impacts:

Tyler Schroeder (SEPA official):

9. Some people say that the project will only provide 89 jobs. Where does that come from?

Confusion over the jobs number demonstrates that the public needs access to these documents. The 89 job figure comes from this document (large file), available on the MAP Team web site. The document was prepared by the project applicant, Pacific International Terminals, Inc. and is called Project Information Document, dated Feb. 28, 2011.

Specifically from this part:

4.5.1 Employment

Operating hours for the Terminal are anticipated to be 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. When fully developed the Terminal is expected to employ 213 people. Table 4–3 shows the anticipated numbers of Terminal employees for each operational phase.

Table 4–3 Estimated Number of Terminal Employees by Shift for Each Operational Phase


Approximate Year (estimated)

Operational Capacity (Mtpa)8

7 AM–4 PM

3 PM–12 AM

11 PM-8 AM






























*Mtpa = Million metric tons per annum

10. What about access to documents?

I’m not employed by either Whatcom County or the project applicant, so clearly it’s my obligation to sit inside on a beautiful sunny day in order to create links! Well, OK, I didn’t feel like I could enjoy the sunshine until there was some sunlight. So here are some links:

Regulatory Diagram

Tentative Schedule

Pending Studies and Reports

MAP Meeting with Whatcom County Warning: this is a very strange document.

Whatcom County comments on the applicant's Project Information Document

Action Items

There are lots more document on the MAP Team web site. Do you want them to be made public, not just quasi-public? The County is the level of government closest to the public. Speak to the County.

UPDATE on cost reimbursement, June 7:

Anonymous and David raise some interesting points about the cost of the MAP Team. According to the notes of the "MAP Meeting" (see the link above), the County's position is:

"The County can collect an application fee and, above a certain amount, charge hourly for SEPA review. However, they need an application to get the process started. They are hoping to start a pre-application process, which also lets them recover costs. The pre-application information can be fairly simple and abbreviated. The County asked ORA to help convey the importance of starting the pre-application process to the applicant.

The County prefers to use their existing permit fee and hourly charge system for cost reimbursement rather than some other arrangement, such as cost-reimbursement contract through ORA."

So it looks like the answer is that the County will be working for free until the applicant decides to start the "pre-application" process.

State agencies, on the other hand, have signed a cost reimbursement agreement with the state Office of Regulatory Assistance, which is running the MAP Team. Here's a link to the agreement.

I wonder if the County is thinking about getting some cost reimbursement for the costs involved in providing public access to comments and agency documents, if the state isn't willing to do so. When comments start coming in from the cities and residents all along the rail lines, not just Whatcom County, this project is going to overwhelm County staff. With planning staff cut to the bone and beyond, we're extraordinarily ill-equipped to deal with a project of this magnitude.

UPDATE on posting public comments, June 7:

As Terry mentioned, the "General Interest" tab has been de-activated. There's a cryptic little discussion of this issue in the "Action Items" document (see link, above). If you get onto the MAP Team web site and click the "General Interest" tab, it now says this:



ORA is in the process of refining its process for posting stakeholder perspective and information related to the GPT Project. Content previously available on this General Interest Tab has been temporarily removed. ORA will communicate the process for posting of stakeholder perspective and information following the next regularly scheduled MAP Team meeting. Thank you for your patience.




A proposed approach for addressing and posting external content and stakeholder perspective to the GPT MAP Team Website has been drafted, is undergoing internal OFM review and will be distributed to the full MAP Team for review and input by June 10, 2011.

So maybe we'll know something by. . August 11, the next regularly scheduled MAP Team meeting? BUT WAIT -- the "tentative schedule" (see link above) says that the scoping process is going to start in July. It would be nice if they could figure out how to deal with public input before the scoping process begins.

UPDATE of the UPDATES, June 9:

The "e-mail from Pete" was actually an e-mail from Pete to a constituent. I've seen it before. Pete didn't speak directly to Get Whatcom Planning -- sigh. But he did post the same message to the County's web page --

Thanks to Anonymous for sending the link to the new Gateway Pacific page on the Planning and Development Services' web site: One suggestion for the County: could you add a direct link under "Hot Topics" on the County's home page? It's not easy to find the dedicated Gateway Pacific page from the County's main web page, and I believe that there might be a few people in the County who don't read our blog. Shocking as that may be.

Once you know that the Gateway Pacific page is on the Planning and Development Services' site, it's easy to find the page -- there's a link from the main page. Thanks, PDS! And my continued empathy about handling the public comments issue. I hear that there are several hundred per week coming in.

For those interested in media coverage of the project, here's a link to a King 5 news report shot in Bellingham. The job figures are always interesting -- this report says "around 300," which I guess is close to 213. If you round up.


  1. Jean, you are a rock star for getting this out there! Can the dropbox links you provided be used by any web page? I've been wanting to compile these myself onto a single, easy-to-use page, but our web service is bad with large documents. In particular, the multi-chapter project document has some appendices over 20 megabytes (e.g., the wetlands delineation that shows the 141 acres they plan to fill).

    Incidentally, is that list of "Pending Studies and Reports" part of SSA's obligations under their 1999 Settlement Agreement that they've been blowing off for a decade? Or is it normal for companies that have yet to submit for a permit to be required to do all kinds of studies?

    Anyhow, this process is mind-blowingly secretive so far. Is it something that a new County Executive could stop?

  2. Great work Jean! I love the regulatory diagram and the MAP doc from the Governors regulatory. It's isn't surprising to me that they would have a firewall. It's pretty standard security. Keep up the great work . We need it! Mark Flanders

  3. Why, thank you, Matt. A rock star of project permitting is as close to being a rock star as I'm likely to get.

    I think that the Dropbox links should work anywhere. It's from a public folder. Dropbox does have a file size limitation that I've hit before on other projects, so those really big documents can be a challenge.

    That's a good question about the Pending Studies and Reports. It will also be interesting to see how this information feeds into the Environmental Impact Statement process. It looks like the US Army Corps of Engineers hasn't hired a consultant yet, but a lot of work is being done.

    A new County Executive could make this an open and transparent process. As could our current County Executive. Abe Jacobson forwarded an e-mail that he received from Executive Kremen, stating that "All documents provided by SSA Marine to the county will be made as readily available as possible." Making the project applicant's documents available is a start, but it's not quite the same as providing access to citizen comments and agency documents.

    Mark, thanks for your support. I've worked on projects in many states over several decades and have never encountered a firewall protecting public documents before.

    Perhaps the agencies have been more forthcoming because of the firewall, on the assumption that most people won't wrestle with it. We may sacrifice candor for access, but public sector employment is a fishbowl. After all, this is a state that has a ringing statutory declaration:

    "The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created."

  4. Jean, most of the links you posted appear to be dead. I was able to see the MAP list but apart from the weird state site, all other links did not work. Please keep up the good work so we have a chance at stopping this travesty. Thank you.

  5. No matter how one feels about the project and the issues surrounding it, your post is most excellent. You point the way to vital information people spouting off on the issues need to be aware of to provide informed conversation.


  6. Thanks, Jack.

    Anonymous, on an earlier post with a Dropbox link, one commentator said that he couldn't access the documents. Then he used a different computer and was able to connect through the links. I suspect it's a browser issue. I blame everything on browser issues these days, since my computer downloaded Internet Explorer 9 without asking me and it played havoc with just about everything I try to do on the internet. (I use Firefox to post on this blog now, since IE 9 won't let me.)

    If it's a persistent and widespread problem, I'll try Google Docs.

  7. Thank you, Jean, Whatcom County needs you!

  8. Thank you for this post Jean. I think it benefits everyone to make the process transparent.

  9. Dear XXXXX,

    I wanted to send you an updated and expanded response to your earlier email expressing concerns with the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal project at Cherry Point. My staff has been in on-going discussions with the applicant as well as local, state and federal agencies in regards to the proposal. However, at this time, Gateway Pacific Terminal has not formally applied for the required new permits to Whatcom County for their latest proposal. It is anticipated that SSA Marine will be submitting a new Major Project Permit and a revision to the original Shoreline Substantial Development permit. These actions will require completion of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the State of Washington Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).

    At this time, the Army Corps and we have been in preliminary review of the Request for Proposals (RFP) to compile a team of expert to help facilitate the EIS review. The purpose of the RFP is to make sure that the consultant the cast array of expertise required preparing this complex of an EIS. This consultant team must demonstrate expertise in each of the resource sectors typically reviewed in an EIS with special emphasis on, but not limited to:

    • Wetlands fill and mitigation;
    • Near-shore benthic biota including eel grass propagation and herring fisheries, hatcheries and migration;
    • Threatened and endangered species and ESA Section 7 consultation including the most recent research related to pier construction and vessel movement impacts on marine species;
    • Indian fishing and fishing treaty rights;
    • Cultural resources and NHPA Section 106 consultation;
    • Rail transportation of bulk commodities including rail traffic impacts and fugitive dust emissions and mitigation;
    • Vessel traffic analysis and oil spill fate and effects analysis as a result of collision;
    • Experience with air quality modeling and mitigation relative to fugitive dust emissions from bulk terminal materials handling equipment; and
    • Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
    Also, it is important to separate the RFP process from the scoping process. An integral step of preparing an EIS is the scoping process, which determines the specific elements of the environment that will be studied for the project EIS. The scope of the EIS will be finalized upon completion of the Public and Agency Scoping Process. It is anticipated that the scope of the EIS will include the evaluation of the following issues:

    • 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 impacts, including rail traffic;
    • 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;
    • Impacts to cultural resources;
    • Air Quality impacts, including Green House Gas Emissions; and
    • Other issues identified through the Scoping process and in response to all comments received regarding the Draft EIS (DEIS).
    Please be assured that Whatcom County is sensitive to and shares your concerns that Bellingham and Whatcom County impacts must be included in this critical document. I will make sure to forward your comments to our SEPA official to be included into the elements list for the EIS.

    Thank you for expressing your views regarding this critical and important topic for our community.


    Pete Kremen
    County Executive

  10. Thank you, Ms. Melious. Wonderful work! Now go get some sunshine! ;)

  11. Normally the County Planning staff (what's left of them after all the budget cuts) don't work on anything without a fee being paid or direction from the Council or Executive. Is SSA somehow paying for the time they are spending on this, and if not who is responsible for them spending taxpayer money for the benefit of a private business?

  12. Anon --

    The reality is that taxpayer money is being spent all the time for the benefit of private business -- and that isn't necessarily a bad thing if it is the type of business that the community wants in their community.

    The permit revenue that covers the expenses of planning staff probably amounts to maybe 25% of the true costs to provide that service -- maybe less. General fund money (property taxes and sales taxes) are used to subsidize that review process.

    In the case of SSA, I speculate that they will be paying a fairly hefty permit fee, and will be paying for time spent by county staff reviewing the environmental documents. While it will be a hefty fee, I would highly doubt that it would cover 100% of the costs.

    Perhaps the process could shed some light on this issue as well.

  13. Last time I looked for public comments, they'd pulled the Salish letter and e-mail from Roland Middleton with the anti-opponent comments off the documents page. In reading meeting notes, it seems they're overwhelmed with how to treat public comments now that they've started pouring in, and are trying to determine how to treat them.

  14. Anonymous, David and Terry all make good points. I've posted some additional material and comments relating to cost reimbursement and the public process as updates to the blog.

    Thanks for everybody's continued input. Wouldn't it be great to hear from the County itself about some of these points?

  15. David, Does S942 provide a possible source of fed grant money to pay (SSA) for this permitting?

  16. S942 (full text here: is the "Transportation Infrastructure Grants and Economic Reinvestment Act" sponsored by Senator Patty Murray. I haven't read it, but I'm told that it provides federal funding for large port projects that don't need dredging. I understand that the bill doesn't go so far as to say "and has the initials GPT," but its orientation seems to aim at our top left corner.

    I suspect that David hasn't read it either, and we have enough fires for him to fight in Whatcom County without asking him to do more free research. So, how about it, anybody else out there? Does S942 have the potential to be the "Full Employment for Whatcom Planners" law?

  17. Jean mentioned wanting to hear from the County. There is a message in our "spam" folder for this blog that is purportedly written from Executive Kremen. I sent the Executive an email message to confirm it is from him -- but haven't heard back yet. It does talk about process, but since it was sent in by "anonymous" with Pete Kremen signing at the bottom, I want to make sure it is his before posting.


  19. Jean & Dave,

    Thanks for undertaking the job of providing timely, accurate information for public use. With the amount of effort it takes to sort through issues, and the misinformation -or lack of information- around them, its good to have a reliable source for ready reference.
    I strongly appreciate your efforts and expect to refer to this site often.

  20. The County has now bundled email correspondence received and sent regarding GPT on the project website.

  21. Bloviated hyperbole is the phrase that comes to mind when I read the County's language. Thanks for illuminating this.