SEATTLE – Seattle-based SSA Marine has entered into an agreement with St. Louis-based Peabody Energy to export up to 24 million metric tons of coal per year through a planned terminal in northwest Washington.
The proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal in Whatcom County would serve as the West Coast hub for exporting Peabody’s coal from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana to Asian markets, Peabody said in a statement Monday.
The project would ramp up potential U.S. coal exports to Asia from Washington state. Another coal export terminal proposed in Longview in southwest Washington has drawn environmental opposition. That Millennium Bulk Logistics terminal would be a joint venture between Australia-based Ambre Energy and St. Louis mining giant Arch Coal, Inc.
The terminal near Ferndale, Wash. would have a maximum capacity of about 54 million tons, SSA Marine vice president Bob Watters said Tuesday. Peabody is the first customer, but company is also targeting other customers to export grain, potash, calcined petroleum coke and other products, he said.
“We want to design it to be very agile,” Watters said. “We want a broad based portfolio not tied to one particular commodity.”
On Monday, SSA Marine applied for state and federal permits for the $500 million terminal at Cherry Point near Ferndale, Wash., triggering formal environmental review, said Faith Lumsden, the state’s director of regulatory assistance.
Critics of the Longview project say increased coal exports could harm the environment and worsen global warming by increasing the burning of fossil fuels. Environmental groups have appealed to Washington’s Shoreline Hearings Board over a permit awarded for the port by Cowlitz County commissioners.
Watters said the SSA Marine project would bring in $54 million in tax revenues to local and state governments during the two-year construction period, and about $11 million annually in ongoing operations.
The project will go through an extensive environmental review, but he added that the company is doing what it can to lessen the impacts, including proposing to cover the storage facilities for the different commodities, as well as conveyor systems.
“We’re working very hard to make this work with the environment and to protect the environment,” Watters said, noting that the cargo facility has a large buffer area, and uses only one-third of 1,100 acres.
Bob Ferris, executive director of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, and others raised questions about local health and environmental impacts, train traffic and contamination from coal dust.
“Building a coal export terminal in Washington represents a step in the wrong direction,” said Ferris. “What century are we in if our economic future is pinned on the hopes of shoveling coal? There is a better path for Bellingham — and Washington.”
St. Louis-based Peabody said that coal export volumes would depend on global market demand, terminal capacity and other factors.
The application begins a joint environmental review process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Whatcom County as lead agencies, Lumsden said.
The company hopes to start construction in 2013 and open the terminal in 2015. It would employ about 430 workers at full capacity. SSA runs 125 marine terminal operations around the world.
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