From the Friends of the San Juans
Voices from across the county, state, and country have weighed in on the “cradle to grave” impacts of coal export. The public comment period for the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) scoping process concluded on January 22. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Washington Department of Ecology, and Whatcom County Planning and Development Services received almost 100,000 comments asking for a broad review of Peabody Energy and SSA Marine’s proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point, WA.
Residents, businesses, organizations and elected officials called on the agencies to look at impacts from the mines, along the rail and bulk ship routes, and from coal burning once exported.
The comments submitted from the islands mirror the depth and breadth of those concerned about coal export across the region. Along with thousands of individuals, the San Juan County Council, local organizations, tour operators, tribal governments, town governments all along the rail and shipping route, and state agencies like the Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife submitted comments.
FRIENDS of the San Juans led local efforts to engage community members in this process. “Hundreds of submissions are from San Juan County and I feel confident that we have successfully expressed concerns for the Salish Sea. We look forward to seeing our issues covered in the EIS,” said Katie Fleming, FRIENDS’ Community Engagement Director.
The written comments complement last fall’s historic hearings where public opposition dominated the participation throughout the region. 450 people attended the scoping hearing in Friday Harbor alone.
“Just as the vessels exporting GPT’s cargo must not be considered in isolation, so too the impacts on the Salish Sea, shorelines, marine species, bird species, fish and fisheries, tourism and local economies must not be considered singly,” wrote FRIENDS of the San Juans in their public comment. “An accident involving a coal spill or a coal ship/oil tanker collision involving a spill of one or both cargoes could have long ranging and far reaching implications for the system that brings us salmon and must be fully discussed. Daily persistent pollution, at an increased rate and including new elements precipitated by a new coal port, might be just as devastating, but will take longer to show. This too must be fully considered.”
“The project may impact an array of species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, including the endangered Southern Resident Orcas,” stated the San Juan Island National Historical Park in its official comment. “Viewing Orcas and other marine mammals is prized by visitors to the park. How will the increased ship traffic impact these species, whose protection is mandated by Federal law?”
The San Juan Preservation Trust (SJPT) also provided comment, saying, “We are very concerned that the proposed GPT project could have significant adverse impacts on SJPT properties, resources, and values. We would therefore respectfully request that the EIS for this project address the potential for negatively and adversely affecting the ecological and scenic values of the lands we’ve protected throughout the San Juan Archipelago.”
“I own and operate Western Prince Whale & Wildlife Tours out of Friday Harbor, WA,” said Ivan Reiff in his public comment, “Our company has offered whale watching tours in the area for the last 27 years. We employ 10 local residents and are part of an industry that provides hundreds of jobs and takes over 500,000 tourists out every year. I personally live year round on San Juan Island where I am raising my family. I am greatly concerned about a number of impacts this project would likely have on our environment.”
While a large majority of comments were from Northwest residents, businesses, organizations and elected officials, others from around the country weighed in expressing concern over global warming emissions and toxic pollution, including from all 50 states. The co-lead permitting agencies will now use these comments to develop the first draft of the EIS. If built, the terminal at Cherry Point would be the largest coal export terminal in North America, with Peabody Energy exporting its coal from the Powder River Basin. This is one of five terminals proposed for WA and OR.