Take Action!

You can help drive job creation and economic growth in Whatcom County. Join our growing list of supporters. Take Action!


Sign Up For News & Updates

As we move through the development process, stay up-to-date on all the activities associated with the project. Keep informed and tell us what you think. Please Sign Up!


Frequently Asked Questions about Gateway Pacific Terminal


Gateway Pacific Terminal


FAQ Topics:

Jobs & Tax Revenues
Rail Traffic
Air Quality
Marine Life
EIS Process
SSA Marine
Vessel Transportation
State & National Competitiveness

Jobs & Tax Revenues

Q: How many jobs will this project create?
A: This project will be a major producer of local family-wage jobs. The two-year construction period will create 3,500-4,400 new jobs and $74-$92 million in state and local tax revenues. Once operational, the terminal will create 294-430 permanent direct jobs, with an average annual salary of over $75,000. These direct jobs, along with induced and indirect employment will sustain 860-1,250 permanent jobs, and create $8-$11 million annually in local and state tax revenues. A summary of the estimated jobs and tax revenues can be found here.

Q: Will these jobs be local?
A: Yes. GPT will exhaust the local workforce first — putting local union workers back on the job. Click here to read the letter from SSA Marine Senior Vice President – Business Development, Bob Watters, to the President of the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council assuring that these jobs will go to local union workers.

Q: Do unions support this project?
A: This project has received wide support from both local and national unions. The project has been endorsed by:

  • Maritime Trades Department of the AFL-CIO
  • President of the national AFL-CIO
  • Washington State Labor Council
  • Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council
  • Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO
  • Northwest Washington Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO
  • International Longshore and Warehouse Union – Puget Sound District Council
  • Puget Sound Pilots
  • The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Washington State Legislative Board
  • Pierce County Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO
  • Seattle/King County Building and Construction Trades Council
  • Transportation Division of SMART
  • Puget Sound Port Council

Visit our Support Page to learn more!

Q: What types of firms will be contracted for services and work once the terminal is operating?
A: Gateway plans to directly employ the people who will operate the terminal and take care of other needs through contracted services and suppliers. Other services will include ship pilots, tugs, various maritime services required by the vessels, rail services, and a myriad of supplies, repairs, and equipment will also be needed.

Q: What are the long-term economic benefits of this project?
A: This project will sustain 860-1,250 permanent jobs and $8-$11 million annually in local and state tax revenues. The project will also generate about $140 million a year in wages and tax revenues at full operation, plus a one-time boost of about $441 million in wages and tax revenues from construction. Thus, construction plus ten years of operation would bring more than $1.8 billion to the community.
The terminal will also remain viable for a long time because it is designed to handle at least two commodities at a time (such as grain, coal, potash, wood bio-fuels) and can adapt to changing market demands (coal is just the first commodity).

Q: Which schools will benefit from this project’s tax boost?
A: Both the Blaine and Ferndale School Districts will benefit from the tax revenues generated by the project. The Gateway Pacific Terminal will provide an estimated $1.4 million annually in tax savings for rate payers in the Ferndale School District and an estimated $809,000 annually in tax savings for rate payers in the Blaine School District. (Note: Tax levies for the Blaine school bond and the Ferndale school bond (and other voter-approved bonds) are serial bonds that have fixed annual coupon payments. The additional assessed valuation levels by the GPT may not increase the total property tax revenue for that particular tax district/item, but instead will result in lower annual costs to all taxpayers within the particular tax district, as the levy amount due each year is spread over a larger tax base if the GPT is constructed.)

Q: Will this project hinder the Bellingham waterfront development project?
A: No—there is no reason these two projects cannot coexist. The former Director of the Port of Bellingham said the Terminal will not affect the waterfront redevelopment project. He stated: “We spent six years planning this thing to be consistent with an active, main rail line.”  – The Bellingham Herald

Similarly, the Port of Bellingham Commission President reiterated that this is not an either/or situation. He stated: “During the recent community debate about the proposed Gateway Pacific project, some people stated that the waterfront redevelopment in Bellingham will not be successful if rail traffic increases. We disagree. We have spent several years planning to make sure rail traffic and this critical project can coexist.” (The Bellingham Herald, “Port doesn’t believe cargo terminal rail traffic would harm waterfront”, June 26, 2011).

Rail Traffic

Q: How many trains will pass through every day on their way to the terminal?
A: At maximum capacity the terminal can service 9 trains per day (18 roundtrip), while at half-capacity the terminal can service 4-5 trains per day (8-10 roundtrip). These trains arrive full and leave empty for the return trip.

Q: How long will it take for these trains to pass through a crossing?

A: A study generated for the Port of Bellingham found that the typical delay for a mile-long train is around 4 minutes. Even at maximum capacity, this makes for a total wait time of just over an hour throughout an entire 24-hour period, in exchange for over 1,000 new jobs.
(TranspoGroup Summary of Additional Phasing Analysis—the Waterfront District April 7, 2011)

Q: Will this interrupt passenger rail?
A: Any increased freight traffic will not come at the expense of existing passenger traffic. BNSF has a long, successful history of working with passenger rail authorities. Recently, BNSF has signed an agreement with Washington State and the Federal Railroad Administration for expanded high-speed passenger service on this corridor. Additionally, Matt Rose, CEO of BNSF Railway Company sent a letter to former Governor Gregoire aiming to correct the most misleading claims about transportation impacts and the Gateway Pacific Terminal. In reference to passenger rail, Rose states “I want to assure you that our agreements with Washington State and Amtrak will ensure increased freight traffic will not harm the Amtrak Cascades and Sounder commuter rail operations.”

Q: Why do trains have to blow their horns through town?
A: Train horns are required by federal law to be blown at public crossings for the protection of motorists and pedestrians.

Q: If the Gateway Pacific Terminal is not built, will coal trains continue to pass through Whatcom County on their way to B.C. ports?
A: Yes. Ports in British Columbia are investing millions of dollars in increasing coal export capacity over the next few years, which means that even if the terminal is not built, coal trains will continue to pass through Western Washington on their way to B.C. ports, although our community won’t reap the economic benefits.
For more information about BC terminal expansion at the Ridley Terminal, Westshore Terminal, and Neptune Terminal, follow these links:
1. Platts: British Columbia export terminal can more than double capacity: official, September 19, 2011
2. The Vancouver Sun: Ridley Island terminal expansion key to development, September 20, 2011
3. Neptune Terminals Press Release: Neptune Terminals investing $63.5 million in North Vancouver, May 18, 2011
4. Canada’s Pacific Gateway

Q: Is there a different route the trains can take so that they don’t have to pass through Whatcom County?
A: No. Routing trains via the Sumas branch line and into the Gateway Pacific Terminal has been studied and determined not to be a feasible alternative. That option would have substantially more environmental impacts than upgrading the existing rail line into the facility. It would require building approximately 15 miles of new rail, rehabilitating 38 additional miles of rail, acquiring about 100-150 acres of land, crossing the Nooksack River, building between 2 to 3 miles of new rail in the floodplain alongside the Nooksack River (which is a very flood-prone area) and disturbing up to 20 acres of wetlands. The non-wetland areas are predominately farmland, including areas the State of Washington has declared Prime Farmland, which would be taken out of production in order to build rail. Several at-grade crossings would have to be built as part of this option. This route would also increase the haul distance for every train that needed to enter the facility and for many other trains going both to and from the ports that are not connected to the facility. This increased haul distance would increase the cost for shippers and, ultimately, for consumers.

Air Quality

Q: Will increased rail traffic significantly increase air particulate emissions in our community?
A: No — of the 13 activities monitored by the Washington Department of Ecology (DOE) as sources of particulate emissions, locomotives rank among the three smallest contributors. According to the DOE’s Comprehensive Emissions Inventory Summary, trains only contribute 0.8% of the state’s total PM2.5 emissions (fine particulate matter) — way behind wood stoves (19%) and farming equipment (17%). Locomotives are also four times more fuel efficient than the trucks we pass by every day on I-5, and only account for 0.6% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
(Association of American Railroads, “The Environmental Benefits of Moving Freight by Rail” April 2013)

Although locomotives are already small contributors of emissions, this amount will be even further reduced in the future as trains are subject to new stringent standards by the EPA to reduce diesel emissions by 90%.
(Environmental Protection Agency “Locomotives”)

Q: Will coal dust blow off of incoming trains?
A: Coal dust is a non-issue in Western Washington. Trains carrying coal have been passing through Western Washington for years on their way to BC ports, yet the Northwest Clean Air Agency, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency and the Spokane Clean Air Agency had never received a coal dust complaint until after GPT announced its proposed terminal would export coal. Secondly, tests have shown that dusting events from untreated cars occur with the most frequency close to the mine loading points in the Powder River Basin (PRB) and materially decrease as the railcars move further from the PRB. BNSF Railway has issued a new rule that requires coal shippers to implement measures that will further reduce the potential for coal dusting by at least 85% compared to coal cars where no measures have been taken.

Q: What types of measures are being taken to reduce coal dust loss by 85 percent?
A: Additional measures can be used during coal loading to further negate what is already a minimal issue. Proper sizing of the coal, low profile loading procedures and coal sealant technologies are all ways to further minimize the issue. The coal sealants create a glue-like crust over the cargo, and are benign water-based products. In a recent letter to former Governor Gregoire in which BNSF CEO Matt Rose corrected some of the misleading information about transportation impacts and the Gateway Pacific Terminal, Rose reiterated the effectiveness of these measures: “We can be confident that, as a result of these steps, virtually no measurable coal dust will exit coal cars in Washington State or any point along the trip from the mines to the port facility.”

Q: How will coal dust be controlled at the terminal?
A: The control of spillage and dust is designed into the Gateway Pacific Terminal. In fact, the project’s shoreline permit from Whatcom County requires that “No odors, dust, dirt, or smoke shall be emitted that are detectable at or beyond the property line, in such a concentration or of such duration to cause a public nuisance.” The design and operation of the terminal includes multiple safeguards to ensure that air and water quality are protected.

  • Coal will be stored more than half a mile away from the shoreline, surrounded by hundreds of acres of natural buffers and protected by berms, sprayers and foggers.
  • All rail cars will be unloaded in a closed building equipped with a negative air pressure ventilation system to filter the air.
  • All commodities will be moved in covered conveyer systems over land and enclosed conveyer systems over water. On the wharf, special chutes will transfer material directly into the ships’ holds.

These measures are environmentally superior to older terminals, such as the Westshore Terminal (located in Tsawwassen, BC) which was opened in 1970; since that time, most modern US environmental laws have been put into place, such as the Clean Air and Water Acts.

Marine Life

Q: How will the impacts on marine life be evaluated?
A: Impacts on marine life at Cherry Point have been extensively studied and will be examined further during the EIS process over the next two years. The NEPA/SEPA Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will thoroughly evaluate potential impacts on wildlife and wetlands, and mitigations will be established as part of the permitting process.

The project must meet the federal Endangered Species Act, Magnuson-Stevenson Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act prior to construction. The project construction will be sequenced to preserve herring populations during breeding seasons, and to safeguard commercial, Tribal, and recreational fishing seasons.

Q: Will this project hurt the Cherry Point herring population?
A: A major environmental focus of the project design is the herring that spawn near the wharf site. These herring are part of a larger population that stretches along 4,500 miles of coastline. The Pacific Herring population was studied by local academics, the NOAA Fisheries Northwest Regional Office, and the WA Department of Fish & Wildlife, which conclude that factors other than industry are responsible for impacts on herring.

While independent studies have shown that declines in the local population are due to natural factors rather than industrial activity, we are committed to avoiding or minimizing effects on the herring and its marine environment. As part of the environmental review, we are studying a series of design and operational issues to do just that. For example, when a structure is built over water, its shade can inhibit the growth of plants and small animals. To ensure that the maximum amount of light reaches the water beneath the wharf, we tracked sunlight and artificial light penetration, mapped the shadow pattern beneath the wharf and aligned it to maximize the amount of natural light reaching the water.

Q: Will vessels travelling overseas bring invasive species into our waters?
A: To prevent any non-native species from entering our shores and causing potential damage to marine life, vessels will be required to discharge their ballast water at least 200 miles off shore and will be government inspected at the company’s expense—something not required at other ports.

EIS Process

Q: How will the project’s environmental effects be evaluated?
A: The project is undergoing an exhaustive environmental review by federal, state, and local agencies. The environmental impact statement (EIS) will be developed by the three co-lead agencies, Whatcom County, the Washington State Department of Ecology, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The project will have to comply with at least 15 federal, state, and local environmental laws and regulations. The review is expected to take about two years. To learn more about the EIS process, visit the co-lead agencies’ website: http://www.eisgatewaypacificwa.gov/

This project is the kind of sustainable development that local citizens ask for – it uses the area’s natural and existing infrastructure assets strategically and to their highest value, producing new economic wealth in the region without residential sprawl.

Q: When will the public comment opportunities start?
A: The project is committed to a thorough and transparent environmental impact state (EIS) process that allows full opportunity for public comment. The first opportunity to comment on the scope of what should be evaluated in the EIS concluded January 22, 2013.  During this 120 day scoping period, the public was able to provide input online, by mail, and in person at the seven scoping meetings.  The public will also be asked to comment on the draft EIS and the proposed final decision.  The dates for additional public comment opportunities will be decided on by the agencies conducting the EIS.  For more information about the EIS process and public opportunities to comment, go to the EIS website.


SSA Marine

Q: What is SSA Marine’s track record on environmental performance?
A: SSA Marine is an environmental leader in the stevedoring industry. For example, we presented with the Environmental Excellence Award for Air Quality by the Association of Washington Business for our leadership in improving the air quality at Terminal 18 in Seattle, Washington. We were also presented with the Air Quality Improvement Award of Excellence from the Port of Long Beach, California in recognition of our efforts to reduce emissions from cargo-handling equipment.

The Gateway Pacific Terminal will be environmentally up-to-date, safe, and efficient, and operated pursuant to SSA Marine’s strong commitment to protecting the environment. Like all SSA Marine projects, terminal operations will be required to comply with all environmental regulations, such as those that protect air and water quality, human health, and wildlife.

Q: What is the history of SSA Marine?
A: Our roots reach back to 1949 when Fred R. Smith, the patriarch of the two families who would own and operate the company for the remainder of the 20th century, formed Bellingham Stevedoring Company, the foundation upon which SSA Marine was built.

Today, SSA Marine and our affiliates operate more cargo terminals than any other company in the world. We have 210 operations across the globe, and our regional offices and international operations extend across the United States and Latin America, as well as to South Africa, New Zealand, and Vietnam.

Worldwide, SSA Marine employs 13,000 people speaking 30 languages. In Washington State, we employ 700 full-time union and non-union employees and another 400 union employees part-time. In 2010, we paid $115 million in wages to Washington state union members. Built on the foundation of three generations of Northwest families, we are proud to be called, “the most significant success story in the independent stevedoring industry.”

Vessel Transportation

Q: What types of ships will service the terminal? How large are they?
A: Due to Cherry Point’s naturally deep water (80 feet near-shore), the terminal can accommodate larger vessels without dredging. The bulk carriers that would call at the Gateway Pacific Terminal would be either of the Panamax class or the Capesize class. Panamax vessels are the largest that can traverse the Panama Canal, and are typically 60,000 to 80,000 deadweight tons (DWT). Capesize ships are larger, typically in the range of 175,000 DWT, and might have an overall length of about 800-900 feet. Currently, these ships call at Roberts Bank, just north of Whatcom County. By way of comparison, oil tankers calling at Cherry Point can be about 900 feet, cruise ships calling at Seattle and Vancouver run up to 950 feet, and the new container ships calling in Puget Sound can be about 1,100 feet long. Due to their size, Capesize ships reduce shipping costs 25-30% for U.S. exporters.

Q: Will there be a big increase in ship traffic?
A: At half-capacity, approximately 221 vessels (144 Panamax vessels and 77 Capesize vessels) are expected to call at the GPT per year (about one vessel every other day). At full operational capacity, approximately 487 vessels per year are expected to call at the GPT (about 1-2 vessels every day). (Project Information Document, Section 4.5.6 “Vessel Traffic”).

Q: How will the terminal maintain and evaluate vessel safety?
A: Cherry Point is next to an international shipping channel, in which ship traffic is carefully controlled by the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards, in a manner similar to air traffic control. In addition, each ship must be guided by a Puget Sound Pilot – a highly experienced mariner who is an expert in the local waters and whose job is safe transit of ships. Finally, tugs will be used to berth the ships. While many marine safety procedures already apply to the area, as part of the environmental review, the project will also perform a vessel traffic analysis and a marine safety advisory committee will recommend safe operating procedures.

Q: How is the product moved from trains to ships? Is it the same for each commodity?
A: The Gateway Pacific Terminal is designed to allow both trains and ships to either load or unload and depart quickly. Because the site is large, more than one train could be on the property and unloading at once. Although the way that train cars would be emptied, and the way the cargo is temporarily stored depends on the type of commodity, all cargos will be moved on site and onto the wharf in closed conveyor belt systems. The unloading station would be equipped to control dust. Covered conveyors would move the commodities to storage and enclosed conveyors would move them from land to the ship. Operation of the large, ocean-going vessels is the most costly part of transporting bulk commodities, so the project is designed to minimize the time that each vessel spends at dock. To achieve this efficiency, the terminal must have sufficient land area and infrastructure to marshal large quantities of bulk cargo quickly to or from the vessel. A large land area provides sufficient space to store temporarily outgoing cargo at the terminal ready for loading, or to allow cargo from an incoming vessel to be unloaded immediately to storage.

State & National Competitiveness

Q: How would the Gateway terminal help America thrive?
A: As Asia grows, it is not only producing more, it is consuming more. To take advantage of the opportunities of the growing Asian markets, America must compete effectively with other nations. It must move its goods to the West Coast and get them on ships in a highly efficient manner. Right now, U.S. producers of products such as grain and minerals either have to ship their goods longer distances at higher costs or seemingly can’t export at all, because the United States does not have a marine terminal anywhere on the West Coast capable of fully utilizing the largest, most efficient ships.

Q: Why should America export raw materials? Doesn’t that make us a resource colony to other countries?
A: Exports are a foundation of a strong economy. America should export what it’s good at producing, whether that’s technology such as airplanes and software, or commodities such as food and minerals. It’s not either/or; it should be both. To not sell something we have in abundance, and can produce competitively, is simply to pass on to some other country the benefits of selling it.

Q: Would the Gateway Pacific Terminal compete with other ports in Puget Sound?
A: No. The Gateway Pacific Terminal would be unique to the Puget Sound, opening new markets for export bulk shippers while still accommodating import bulk cargo. Most of the port activity in Puget Sound is based on moving goods in containers, and little dry bulk commodities are moved, other than grain. None of the other ports in Puget Sound have as much upland storage area or the draft to serve the largest bulk carrier ships – features that distinguish the Gateway Pacific Terminal in the market.

Q: What advantages does Cherry Point have over other West Coast ports?
A: Cherry Point is the best location on the U.S. West Coast for a deep-water bulk terminal. Not only does the site have water deep enough that it doesn’t require dredging, but the size of the vessels that can be serviced at Cherry Point can reduce vessel costs for U.S. exporters by 25%-30%. The terminal’s location will also reduce shipping time to Asia by 1-2 days over southerly sites, further enhancing U.S. competitiveness. The terminal can also connect our already-existing rail services in the Midwest and Northern Tier states to foreign markets, strengthening our permanent transportation infrastructure and establishing a highly-efficient highway of commerce.

The size of the site also allows for efficient turnaround of trains, and has enough room to handle more than one commodity at a time and still leave around 3/4 of the site in natural buffer.

Cherry point not only has natural attributes that lend a hand to U.S. competitiveness, but the site is already zoned for heavy industry and fits the County’s long-term land use and economic development plans.

Q: Will there ever be more than dry bulk commodities shipped out of the Gateway Pacific Terminal?
A: The terminal is only being designed and permitted for handling dry bulk commodities, such as coal, grain, wood bio-fuels, potash, and calcined coke.

Q: Are there any Washington commodities that could possibly be shipped out of the terminal?
A: Washington produces a lot of wheat for export, so conceivably, yes. At the same time, Washington produces many exports for Asian markets, and the creation of this terminal will enhance Washington’s reputation in Asia as a valued trading partner.


Q: What kinds of public support has the project received?
A: The project has received strong public support. The terminal has not only been endorsed by local and national unions, but the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Washington State Realtors also support the project. The terminal has also garnered support from a myriad of local public officials, including the Mayors of Ferndale, Lynden, Blaine, Sumas, Nooksack, and Everson, as well as the President of Bellingham Technical College, and State Representatives Jason Overstreet, and Vincent Buys. Visit our Support page to learn more!

Q: How can I help?
A: Many people are asking this question.  If you would like to help, email outreach@GatewayPacificTerminal.com or call (360)738-7229. Also, if you would like to receive email updates as the Gateway Pacific Terminal moves through the approval process, please contact us in either of the above ways or click here to sign up for news and updates. For other ways to help, go to our Take Action page.


Comments are closed.