Environmental Review
Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point Proposal

Photo: DNR Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve

Pacific International Terminals, a subsidiary of SSA Marine, has proposed building a deep-water marine terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County. The proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal would handle import and export of up to 54 million dry metric tons per year of bulk commodities, mostly exporting coal.

In a related project, BNSF Railway Inc. has proposed adding rail facilities adjacent to the terminal site and installing a second track along the six-mile Custer Spur.


Pacific International Terminals has submitted development applications to Whatcom County and other agencies.

In 1997, Whatcom County issued a shoreline substantial development permit and a major development permit for construction and operation of the terminal. Because of changes to the size and scope of the proposal, the county has determined that a new shoreline permit is required for the project. The project must undergo a full environmental review before the company can obtain a new shoreline permit or other permits required for the project.

Environmental review

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state Department of Ecology and Whatcom County are conducting coordinated environmental reviews of the Pacific International and BNSF applications under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).

The agencies have determined that the proposed export terminal and associated rail expansion require environmental impact statements (EIS). These lead agencies are coordinating to produce a federal EIS under NEPA and a state-local EIS under SEPA. The agencies are responsible for identifying and evaluating how the proposed project would affect the environment.

Steps in the environmental review process and estimated timeline:

February 2012 - Determine if there will be impacts: As co-leads in the state environmental review process, Ecology and Whatcom County confirmed this and prepared to issue a determination of significance.

March 2012 - Have an informational meeting: The co-lead agencies conducted a meeting Tuesday, March 20, 2012, in Bellingham to explain the environmental review process, the agencies’ roles and responsibilities, the public's opportunities to engage in the process, and to answer questions. See the video of the meeting, from the Center for New Media. Click here for the presentation.

May 2012 - Hire a contractor: The co-lead agencies selected a contractor to help prepare an environmental impact statement. The contractor was selected through Whatcom county’s public competitive bidding process. For more information on the environmental consulting contract, see the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).

Sept. 24, 2012 to Jan. 21, 2013 – Scoping - deciding what factors to analyze and what geographic area to consider: The co-lead agencies ask other agencies, tribes and the public to comment on what the environmental impact statement should analyze. Examples of possible factors to consider include stormwater, wetlands, air emissions, noise, and traffic. After considering comments, the lead agencies will decide what should be included in the environmental impact statement.
>> For details, please see www.eisgatewaypacificwa.gov.

March 29, 2013 - Scoping Summary Report: The co-lead agencies issued a summary of the comments received during the scoping public comment period that took place Sept. 24, 2012 to January 22, 2013, as well as a description of the public meetings and the various ways that comments were received. The report summarizes the comments by meeting, by resource topics mentioned, by organized interest group, and by business. In addition, it summarizes comments made by Tribes, interested local governments, and Federal and State agencies. See the Scoping Summary Report online.

July 31, 2013 - EIS scope announcement: Ecology, Whatcom County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the preliminary scope – or extentt of evaluation – for the EIS. This FAQ provides details on Ecology’s preliminary scope for the SEPA portions of the EIS.

August 30, 2013 – Proposal to receive separate NEPA and SEPA EISs: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers informed Ecology and Whatcom County that it would prepare a separate NEPA EIS, but wanted to continue to coordinate EIS development among the co-lead agencies. The Corps will prepare a NEPA EIS and Ecology and Whatcom County will prepare a SEPA EIS, each EIS with its own scope. The co-leads will revise their Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) to incorporate the plan for parallel development of the two EISs.

September 23, 2013 – Co-lead coordination agreement amended: The co-leads announced a revised MOU under which Ecology and Whatcom County will produce a draft SEPA EIS and the Corp will produce a draft NEPA EIS. The contractor hired in 2012 to assist the co-leads with EIS preparation will continue to do so.

We are here (arrow) Spring 2014 - Begin preparing draft environmental impact statements (EISs): The contractor, under the direction of the co-lead agencies, has begun to prepare the draft NEPA and SEPA EISs according to the results of the scoping process. The purpose of an EIS is to provide the public and agency decision makers with information on likely adverse effects of a proposed project, as well as reasonable alternatives and measures to reduce those effects.

2015 or later – Issue draft EISs, open public comment period, have public hearings: The draft EISs will be circulated so that the public and other agencies are given an opportunity to comment on their accuracy and content before they are finalized. This process will include public hearings. The co-lead agencies will consider and respond to public comments in the final EISs.

2016 or later – Issue final environmental impact statements: The final EISs will include responses to the comments made on the draft EISs.

Public involvement opportunities:

  • March 2012 – Pre-scoping informational meeting.
  • Sept. 24 2012 to Jan. 21 2013 – Public meetings and 120-day comment period on SEPA/NEPA scoping.
  • 2015 or later – Public hearings and comment period on draft EIS.

Related documents (most recent)

Related information

Additional resources


map showing site location as Whatcom County, WA

Facility Site ID: #22237

Cherry Point,
Whatcom County

Region: Northwest Regional Office (NWRO)

Alice Kelly
Regional Planner
Northwest Regional Office
Department of Ecology

Preparing SEPA and NEPA draft environmental impact statements


EIS website


SEPA Scope of EIS Studies for Gateway Pacific Terminal

Environmental consulting contract for the Gateway Pacific Terminal proposal FAQ


Sept. 23, 2013 Agencies revise agreement to include separate environmental reviews for Cherry Point coal terminal proposal

Jul. 31, 2013 Agencies set scope of environmental impact statement for proposed Cherry Point export project

Apr. 1, 2013 Report summarizes thousands of public comments about scope of environmental review for proposed Cherry Point export terminal

Feb. 6, 2013: More than 124,000 comments received on scope of environmental review for proposed Cherry Point export terminal

Dec. 7, 2012: Drawings set for spoken comments at upcoming meetings for proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal EIS

Nov. 8, 2012: Seattle meeting for proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal EIS changed to accommodate high public interest

Sep. 21, 2012: Scoping begins Sept. 24 for proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal EIS

May 30, 2012: Consultant named for environmental review of proposed Cherry Point terminal

Mar. 5, 2012 - Meeting set to inform public about environmental review process for proposed Cherry Point terminal

Feb. 14, 2012 - Seven firms bid on Cherry Point terminal environmental review

Feb. 2, 2012 - Bid deadline extended for proposed Cherry Point terminal environmental review

Jan. 12, 2012 - Bids invited for environmental review of proposed Cherry Point terminal

Oct. 25, 2011 - Ecology, Whatcom County, Corps of Engineers agree on joint environmental review

Aug. 5, 2011 - Gateway Pacific Terminal site work lacked state permit

Jul. 15, 2011 - Ecology, Whatcom County to co-lead state environmental review of proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point