A company with offices in Bellingham has been selected to help prepare the environmental scoping for the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point. But Whatcom County Council has concerns about the details of the contract.
Pacific International Terminals, a subsidiary of SSA Marine Inc., plans to build and operate the bulk commodities pier. Their proposed project would add rail facilities and a second track near Custer. Approved, the GPT terminal could ship up to 54 million tons of coal per year to Asian markets.
Environmental consulting company CH2M Hill was selected to help local, state and federal governments prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) to evaluate the proposed bulk cargo marine terminal at Cherry Point and a related railroad project. The company won the contract through a selective bidding process that engaged the agencies responsible for those governments.
Whatcom County planning and administration, the Washington Department of Ecology, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will jointly manage the environmental review process for the proposed terminal projects. Whatcom County and CH2M Hill will enter into a joint contract for the scoping phase of the EIS process, expected to take place this summer.
CH2M Hill, founded in Corvallis, Ore., is, in its own words, ”an employee-owned, multinational firm providing engineering, construction, operations and related services to public and private clients in numerous industries on six continents.” The company has deep roots in the Pacific Northwest, and a working knowledge of the region.
Under usual circumstances the administration is empowered to enter into contracts of this kind, Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws told County Council this week. However, given the scale and amount of public interest the proposed coal pier has generated, Louws said he wanted to make those documents public through the council’s regular process and gather approval of the contracts by council members. The contracts define how CH2M Hill will communicate its findings to the agencies, applicant and public; and they additionally define how the company will be compensated for this work and attempt to define potential conflicts of interest and other legal issues related to the scope of work.
Council members expressed discomfort with details of the contract, noting their desire to take extra steps to ensure the environmental scoping process would be fair, inclusive and transparent. In particular, council wanted greater assurance written into the contract that all documents disclosable to the public would be disclosed in a direct and proactive manner. Documents made available to the project applicant must be available to the public, a majority on council expressed.
Louws replied that the terms described in the contract must be acceptable to all agencies. Whatcom County can maintain its own higher standard, he said.
Through scoping, the agencies will decide what factors to analyze and what geographic area to consider in the EIS. The co-lead agencies will ask other agencies, tribes and the public to comment on what the environmental impact statement should address. After considering comments, the lead agencies will decide what should be included in the environmental impact statement.
Further phases include researching and preparing the draft and final EIS.
Council expressed concern that a 60-day period for initial scoping and public comment was not generous enough for a contract of this kind.
“It defies logic or common sense to in any way appear to accelerate a process that has garnered more attention and concern from the people of Whatcom County than any other project in my experience,” Council member Pete Kremen commented.
“It would be in everyone’s interest to have a larger than normal period for comment,” the former county executive said. “A request for a 120-day review period is a reasonable one, given the dimensions of this project.”
Other council members wanted to expand on language within the contract that offers assurances of fairness and due process to the project applicant, Pacific International Terminals. The language should be widened, council members encouraged, to include the broadest selection of stakeholders, including the public. Louws said he would accomodate the request in revised language.
The contract, he said, also clarifies that the applicant, Pacific International Terminals, will cover all the direct costs and most indirect costs of the environmental review process. The project applicants will pay all costs through an arrangement with the county and are not allowed direct contact with the consultant throughout the environmental review process.
When inked, the contract would also reimburse the county costs to date. Pacific International was not legally bound to do this, Louws noted, but agreed voluntarily to cover the costs.
The contractor will help the co-lead agencies ensure that the pubic receives information on the status of the environmental review, public comment periods, the time and location of public meetings and hearings, and other pertinent information throughout scoping and other phases of the EIS process.
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