Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Keeping you informed on environmental impact statement process for proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal

by Katie Skipper, communication manager, Bellingham Field Office

When 800 people show up for a presentation about the environmental impact statement (EIS) process, you know the community is interested.

That’s what happened March 20, 2012, during our public meeting about the Gateway Pacific Terminal project proposed for Cherry Point, reinforcing for us and our co-lead-agency partners that we need to keep you informed about where we are in the process and how you can participate.

We heard from a number of you recently when Whatcom County finalized its contract with CH2M Hill, the environmental consulting company the agencies selected to help us prepare the EIS.

Because many of you had the same or similar questions, we thought it might be helpful if we put them together with some answers.

We’ll post these on our website, and add to it with different topics as they come up.

How can you ensure that everyone has equal access to the process, and that SSA, BNSF or environmental groups can’t unfairly influence the outcome?

The agencies are committed to conducting a fair, thorough and complete environmental review of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal according to state and federal laws. We must follow existing rules, regulations and procedures and apply them consistently and fairly. Under these rules, everyone will have the same opportunity to provide public comment at key points in the process. Nobody will be able to unfairly influence the outcome. The contractor works for the agencies, not for the companies or any outside parties.

You’ve said the scoping period would be 30 to 60 days. Can it be longer?

Yes. The agencies must carry out the environmental impact statement (EIS) process, including scoping, consistently, according to the law, and in a way that provides meaningful participation opportunities to the public. Under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) rules, the normal length of the comment period for scoping would be 21 days (WAC 197-11-408). There is a provision for “expanded scoping” (WAC 197-11-410) that allows 30 days, but it can be extended if the applicants agrees to a longer comment period. In this case, based on public concern, the county indicated that the scoping period should be 120 days, and the applicants have agreed. Ecology is supportive of the extended period, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Seattle District Regulatory Branch does not object to the extended 120-day scoping period .

I can’t find anything about scoping meetings in the contract. Where and when will scoping meetings be held? How will you determine the time and location?

The co-lead agencies have not yet decided on the number or the location of scoping meetings. Once hired, the consultant will help organize and advertise scoping meetings, including investigating locations and venues. The information on time and location of meetings will be publicized broadly in the media and on government agency websites. There also will be opportunities to learn about the proposal and submit formal comments without attending a scoping meeting.

I would like to see existing information about the proposed project’s impacts before I prepare my scoping comments. When and where will studies and reports be available?

The scoping notice will have a description of the project and include a link to the co-lead agencies’ comprehensive website where all preliminary studies and reports that are available will be posted, as well as up-to-date information about the process, public comment periods and public meetings.

After scoping, when is the next opportunity for the public to comment?

The next public comment period will be for the draft EIS, which may take a year or more to prepare. The draft EIS will include all of the studies, reports, models, data and information gathered about the proposed project’s potential impacts identified through scoping.

What protections do you have in place to ensure that the applicant cannot influence the consultant during scoping or later phases of the EIS process?

The consultant will work directly for the co-lead agencies. Communication between the applicants and the consultant will take place only when the agencies are present, or with the permission of the co-lead agencies, and must be documented as specified by the communication protocol.

Will the applicants be able to talk to the agencies during scoping? Can I come to meetings between the applicants and the agencies to ensure the public’s interests are adequately represented?

The agencies need to communicate with and obtain information about the project from the applicants in order to prepare the draft EIS. The laws governing the review process include specific times for public input. The first opportunity for public input is scoping. After scoping, the second opportunity will be a public comment period on the draft EIS. Meetings between the applicant and the agencies are not public meetings. The process was designed to ensure that the agencies obtain the project information they need from the project applicants, while ensuring public participation at all key points in the process.

Who is paying for the consultant?

The applicants will reimburse the county for the consultant’s costs for work on the EIS through an agreement with Whatcom County. This contract includes provisions for all of Whatcom County’s direct costs, consistent with the handling of other applications.

1 comment:

Bob_Aegerter said...

When will you update your responses to these questions. Several are out of date.

Why is the communications link on the Whatcom Planning Department webpage not being updated?

What is the earliest date anticipated for publishing the scoping notice?