Monday, July 18, 2011

3 Things that Everybody Needs to Know About the Gateway Pacific Project at Cherry Point

I was talking to some friends over dinner last weekend, and because my friends are concerned citizens of Whatcom County, the conversation turned to the proposed terminal at Cherry Point.

“I don’t know of any reasons to support or oppose it,” one of my friends said. "Everybody I know is just waiting to get some information."

Well, I said, we already have some information, because there's a project application that provides a lot of facts.

"Project application?" she said. “Hasn’t the pier already been approved out there?”

There is an approved application from the 1990s, I said, but for a very different project. That was for a terminal that would allow the shipment of about 8 million metric tons of bulk commodities. The new project aims at 54 million tons.

Wow, she said, that’s a big difference. And then she asked:. “Won’t this help the farmers? They’ll be shipping grain, right?” And she mentioned that she read this in an ad for the project.

Not so much, I said. The project application says that the entire first phase is for the storage and shipment of coal, and that the second phase would provide for the shipment of other commodities. Maybe grain, but right now it looks like probably not. Anybody interested in this issue should read Floyd McKay’s article in Crosscut (click here), which indicates that agricultural shipments likely would be from outside Washington. Corn and soybeans, likely.

“You know,” she said, “they need to get this information out there: Three Facts about Cherry Point.

I'm not sure who “they” are, but what the heck -- it seemed like a good idea to me. So here are three facts about the Cherry Point project, as best I can determine from what’s on record. My sources are listed below, and if I’m wrong about any of these figures, please tell me and I’ll make corrections.

1. Is the project the same size and for the same purpose as the one that was already approved?

No – 54 million tons vs. 8.2 million tons; mostly coal versus a variety of bulk commodities.

2. Will the environmental impacts be the same?


At this point, you’re thinking “So who are you, Miss Know-It-All, to reach that conclusion before the Environmental Impact Statement is done? How do you know?”

I know because of the project application; all you have to do is read words on paper. The project application says that the project will have direct permanent impacts on around 141 acres of wetlands, compared to less than 6 acres for the old proposal.

Now, some people have no liking for wetlands and may not think that this is a big loss. And it’s true that the impact will have to be “mitigated.” But anybody who has worked in property development knows that 141 acres of wetlands is a lot. Wetlands just upland from an aquatic reserve seem particularly valuable, and many eyes need to be watching to see whether that “mitigation” will protect fish and water quality.

Does that mean that all environmental impacts will be more significant than the old project? Not necessarily, but when you look at the increase in size, it’s difficult to see how impacts could be reduced. Speaking of increases–

3. Will the amount of tanker traffic change?

Yes – from 140 vessels per year to 487 vessels per year at buildout.

In short:

THEN (1997)

NOW (2011)

(1) What and how much

8.2 million metric tons

“Near term”: Feed grains (wheat, barley, soybeans, corn and grain products); petroleum coke (including material from the adjacent refinery); iron ore; sulfur; potash, and wood chips

54 million metric tons

Coal: 48 million tons; 24 million tons is under contract..

Other dry bulk commodities: 6 million tons

(2) Wetland effects

5.86 acres

140.6 acres, permanent direct impacts

+ 21.3 acres, temporary direct impacts

161.9 acres, total direct impacts

(3) Marine vessel traffic

140 vessels/year

487 vessels/year at buildout.

Approximately 221 vessels (144 Panamax vessels and 77 Capesize vessels) per year during Phase 1 operations.

Information sources:


1996 Draft Environmental Impact Statement, available at

1997 Final Environmental Impact Statement, available at

Dept. of Ecology EIS comments, 1997, available at


Gateway Pacific Joint Aquatic Resources Permit Application, available at

Project Information Document, Chapters 4 and 5, Pacific International Terminals, Inc., 2/28/11, available at .

(PLEASE NOTE: this is Jean, not David, posting. As per usual, David didn’t know that I planned to post, hasn’t read this, and can comment below just like anybody else if he doesn’t like it.)

(Well, technically, he could remove the post if he doesn’t like it, but I don’t see him as the censoring type.)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks again, Jean, for sharing great information in an accessible, humorous way. Where would we be without humor in the face of some of projects crossing the plate these days.

    Thanks for sharing your insights.