Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Environmental consulting contract for the Gateway Pacific Terminal proposal

Updated: February 14, 2014

  1. Where can I find the contract between Whatcom County and CH2MHill?

    The contract is posted on Whatcom County’s website.

  2. What is the cost of the contract?

    $7,238,701. This includes a contingency of $313,000. The contract includes the cost of producing two administrative draft EISs; one through NEPA for the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and one through SEPA for Whatcom County and the Department of Ecology. This amount is within a typical range for Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) for other large projects.

  3. What is the length of the contract?

    The anticipated completion date for this phase of work (Phase 2) is estimated to be the middle of 2015. The previous contract for Phase 1 covered the scoping process.

  4. What work is included in this (Phase 2) contract?

    This contract covers the work needed to prepare two administrative draft EISs. This includes development and screening of the range of alternatives, affected environment/existing conditions, and a review of environmental impacts and mitigation measures to address significant, adverse effects. The analysis of the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of construction and operation of the marine terminal, upland materials, handling, storage facilities, and rail facilities also will be included, along with proposed mitigation measures.

    Administrative draft means it is for agency review. The agencies will review the EISs to ensure they comply with state, local and federal law.

    This contract (Phase 2) does not include distribution of the draft EISs to the public, conducting the public hearings, responding to comments, and developing the final EIS; those tasks will be in a future Phase 3 contract.

  5. When will the draft EISs be issued?

    The release date will depend on the time needed to gather information and for analysis, but the current schedule plans for the draft EISs to be ready for public review in mid-to-late 2015. This is a planning date, not a regulatory requirement.

  6. What are the differences between SEPA and NEPA?

    NEPA: The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is implemented by federal agencies. NEPA requires federal officials to consider environmental values alongside the technical and economic considerations that are inherent factors in federal decision-making. NEPA calls for the evaluation of reasonable alternatives to a proposed federal action; and the unbiased presentation of direct, indirect, and cumulative environmental impacts of the federal action. This information is used by a federal official before a decision is made. The Corps has agency-specific procedures for implementing NEPA that can be found at 33 CFR 325 Appendix B.

    SEPA: SEPA stands for State Environmental Policy Act. In Washington State, it sets up a process to review proposed projects that require state or local permits and could result in likely environmental impacts. SEPA requires evaluation of probable direct, indirect and cumulative impacts to the natural and built environment. SEPA has been in place since 1971 and the requirements for SEPA are explained in the Washington Administrative Code, Chapter 197-11. The permit processes will begin after the final EIS is completed.

    For the analysis of the potential environmental effects of Gateway Pacific Terminal, the NEPA and SEPA EISs have different scopes due to the decisions of the lead agencies based on the separate statutory requirements of the state and the federal laws.

  7. What are the differences in the scope of the NEPA EIS and the SEPA EIS for the GPT proposal?

    The NEPA EIS will require analysis of on-site and off-site alternatives, analysis of the project’s on site and nearby impacts, including environmental effects on wetland, shoreline and inter-tidal areas, water and air quality, cultural and archeological resources, fish and wildlife, noise and vibration, among other possible effects. The Corps will also conduct a detailed evaluation of vessel traffic to a point located 8 miles west of the J Buoy offshore of Cape Flattery.

    The SEPA EIS will include similar analysis for on-site impacts as well. It also will include a detailed assessment of rail transportation impacts in Whatcom County near the project site, specifically including Bellingham and Ferndale, and assessment of rail transportation impacts on communities in Washington State with a general analysis of out-of-state rail impacts. The SEPA EIS also will include an assessment of how the project would affect human health. It will evaluate greenhouse gas emissions from terminal operations, rail and vessel traffic, and disclose greenhouse gas emissions of end-use coal combustion associated with the proposal.

    The co-lead agencies could revise the scope of the draft EISs in response to new findings or other information as development of the draft EISs move forward.

  8. What is the SEPA process as required by chapter 197-11 WAC?

    After a Determination of Significance is issued, the SEPA rules require that lead agencies conduct a scoping comment period, develop the draft EIS and release to the public, then conduct a public comment period on the draft EIS. The comments are taken into consideration, after which a final EIS is issued. We are now in the draft EIS development phase.

    The actions taken during the scoping phase were included in a scoping summary report issued by the co-lead agencies in March 2013. The co-leads chose to develop this report to provide information but it was an optional step in the SEPA process.

    The next phase is the development of the draft EISs. As soon as the contract is signed the consultant will begin work on the studies. The co-lead agencies must develop an independent, impartial document and will be directing the consultant with input from technical staff in their own and other agencies. The methodologies in the scope of work for the contract represent our preliminary approach and are subject to change.

  9. What is the difference between the “scoping period,” “scope of study,” “scope of the EIS” and the “scope of work?”

    The term “scope” has several different meanings depending on how it is used.

    “Scoping period” is the first step in the EIS process. The purpose is to determine the scope (or content) of the EIS. The scoping period includes a public comment period where the public, agencies, and communities can recommend impacts and alternatives to be evaluated in the EIS.
    • For Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT), we have completed the scoping period. While no formal response is required for the scoping comments, the co-lead agencies issued a scoping summary report in March 2013.
    “Scope of the EIS” or “scope of study” includes the alternatives and “elements of the environment” that will be analyzed in the EIS. The scope of the EIS can be revised by the lead agencies whenever changes to the proposal are made or if new information is learned.
    • For GPT, we have determined that all SEPA elements of the environment will be studied. These include: earth, air, water, plants and animals, energy and natural resources, environmental health, land and shoreline use, transportation, and public services and utilities. The alternatives will include a no-action alternative and others that will be identified during the development of the draft EIS.

    • For NEPA, the Corps’ scope of analysis and the preliminary extent of impact evaluation in the EIS were documented in the Memorandum for Record dated 3 July 2013, which is posted on the web site.
    “Scope of work” applies to the contract and identifies what actions will be performed by the consultants hired to work on the EIS.
    • For GPT, the contract with the scope of work was submitted to the applicants in December 2013. The contract has not yet been signed so the scope of work has not begun.

  10. What protections do you have in place to ensure applicants cannot influence the consultant during development of the draft EISs?

    The consultant works directly for the co-lead agencies - not the applicants. Communication between the applicants and the consultant take place only when the agencies are present, or with permission, and must be documented as specified by a communication protocol agreement.

  11. Do the applicants talk to the agencies during the development of the draft EISs?

    Yes. The agencies need to communicate with and obtain information about the project from the applicants in order to efficiently and accurately prepare the draft EIS. To be consistent and clear, a formal communications protocol has been signed by all the parties to describe how we communicate. This process was designed to ensure that the agencies obtain the project information they need from the project applicants but clearly explains that the agencies are responsible for directing the work of the consultant on the EISs.

  12. How is the consultant paid?

    The two applicants who have applied for permits for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal and Custer Spur project - Pacific International Terminals, Inc. and BNSF Railway - are responsible for funding the EISs. Whatcom County has a contract for the consultant’s costs for work on the draft EISs, and the applicants reimburse the county for these costs. The applicants also pay for Whatcom County’s direct costs, consistent with the handling of other applications.
map showing site location as Whatcom County, WA

Gateway Pacific Terminal Proposal

Facility Site ID: #22237

Cherry Point,
Whatcom County

Region: Northwest Regional Office (NWRO)

Alice Kelly
Regional Planner
Northwest Regional Office
Department of Ecology

Status: Preparing SEPA and NEPA draft environmental impact statements