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Chuck Taylor | ctaylor@heraldnet.com
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2012, 11:03 a.m.

Coal-terminal fight generates increasing heat

  • The site of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal in Whatcom County.

    Gateway Pacific Terminal via Crosscut.com

    The site of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal in Whatcom County.

We've posted a brief story from the Bellingham Herald via The Associated Press about the proposal to build a rail-to-sea coal terminal within the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve in Whatcom County. Eight hundred people turned out for a meeting about future meetings!
"Seattle-based SSA Marine wants to build a terminal near Bellingham that would ship millions of tons of coal from Montana and Wyoming to Asia. The company says it would create thousands of jobs and generate millions in tax and other revenues."

For most of us in Snohomish County, the impact of the Gateway Pacific Terminal would likely be from coal-train traffic, especially through Marysville. But the real battle, I think, will be over the environmental impact on Puget Sound.

Bellingham resident and Crosscut.com correspondent Floyd McKay has been following this story in depth and the other day filed a detailed update on the project. While the trains are of concern to many, what caught my eye was the size of the ships:
"The Cherry Point terminal is particularly sought-after because of its 80-foot channel, which requires no dredging and can handle shipping's massive Capesize ships, so large they cannot pass through the Panama Canal. About a third of the coal ships expected would be Capesize, the document projects; the others would be Panamax, somewhat smaller vessels."

So what offsets the impact of "adding nearly a thousand massive ships to the shipping lanes of the San Juan Islands" and the coal trains? Writes McKay:
"The terminal itself would only directly employ 89 workers on-site in 2016 and 213 upon full buildout in 2026; most would be longshoremen. The report claims that associated jobs created by the project (including 44 staff jobs and 173 workers in rail and marine jobs) would boost the total to 430, although most of the rail and marine jobs would not be local hires."

Those are SSA's claims. Critics think the number of jobs created would be far fewer.

This is going to be a huge issue this year as SSA seeks permits and environmental reviews play out. So huge that Crosscut, the non-profit news outlet in Seattle, has created a special tag for it on its website. You can find all of McKay's coverage here.

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