Corps to look at impacts of Cherry Point coal export terminal

The Seattle office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is taking scoping comments on what should be in an environmental review for both the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal export project of Pacific International Terminal Inc. and BNSF Railway’s Custer Spur Rail Expansion project.

This is one of about a half dozen coal export terminal projects underway in the states of Washington and Oregon as developers try to meet surging demand dfor U.S. coal, particularly Powder River Basin coal, in the Pacific Rim market. The projects are running into heavy environmental group opposition, both locally due to factors like impacts of coal dust wafting from the trains and terminals on the local environment, and from national groups who say the U.S. shouldn’t export coal that will be burned in power plants and put out CO2.

The Corps received permit applications under Section 403 or Section 404 of the Clean Water Act for these projects, the agency said in a Sept. 21 Federal Register notice. The Corps has determined the proposed projects are interrelated and need an environmental impact statement under both the National Environmental Policy Act and the Washington State Environmental Policy Act.

The scoping period, where the agency takes input on what should be covered in the EIS, will start on Sept. 24 and run until Jan. 21, 2013.

The projects involve construction of a new pier in marine waters and associated rail and cargo handling facilities in adjacent wetlands and uplands and the expansion of an existing rail spur line into wetlands and across streams. The project sites are located in Whatcom County, Wash., northwest of Ferndale and south of Birch Bay in an area called Cherry Point.

Pacific International Terminals is proposing the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) project to be developed on about 350 acres and would include a three-berth, deepwater wharf. The wharf would be 3,000 feet long and 105 feet wide, with access to deep water for deep-draft ships provided by an approximately 1,100 foot-long by 50 foot-wide trestle. Upland facilities will include open air and covered commodity storage, each serviced by an on-site rail loop. A system of conveyors would connect the commodity storage areas to the trestle and wharf.

Commodities would be delivered to the GPT by rail via the existing BNSF Custer Spur line from the Bellingham subdivision main line. BNSF is proposing to upgrade its existing Custer Spur line with additional tracks and sidings, which will impact approximately 17 acres of wetlands and involve modifications to two creek crossings and several ditches.

“The EIS will address an array of alternatives for providing facilities suitable for the shipping and receiving of dry bulk goods (grains, ore, coal, etc.) and for handling rail traffic to the new facility,” the notice said. “Alternatives analyzed during the investigation may include but are not limited to no-action, alternative sites, alternative methods for shipping and handling bulk goods, alternative facility designs, and alternatives for the railroad spur upgrades. Mitigation measures may include but are not limited to avoidance of sensitive areas, creation or enhancement of marine macroalgae beds, and creation, restoration, or enhancement of wetlands.”

“Gateway Pacific Terminal will be a full-service dry bulk commodity export-import facility on 1,092 acres in Whatcom County, Washington,” said the project website. “The shipping, stevedoring, and warehousing facility – to be the largest on the West Coast of the U.S. – is the latest innovation of SSA Marine, a Northwest company that is a global leader in maritime services.”

The company website has an August announcement from the company that coal giant Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU), the first customer for the facility, has committed to treat all coal it exports through the terminal with a sealant to eliminate any potential concerns about dust from its coal shipments.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.