BHP revising Hoquiam permit application for proposed potash facility

2nd round of public comment after revised application submitted

There will be another opportunity to comment on a proposed potash storage and shipping facility at the Port of Grays Harbor as the company behind the project, BHP, continues to revise its shorelines permit application with the City of Hoquiam.

“We are currently revising our application with the City of Hoquiam,” said Ken Smith, BHP’s manager of corporate affairs for potash. “There will be an additional public comment period” after the amended application is submitted.

The city had already reviewed BHP’s first shoreline permit application with the help of a consultant, Anchor Environmental, and made a mitigated determination of non-significance Nov. 15. That meant the review determined the proposal “will not have a probably significant impact on the environment” and a full Environmental Impact Statement would not be needed for permitting to proceed.

Written public comment was taken Nov. 15-Dec. 17, and a public hearing was scheduled for Dec. 19. That hearing was delayed as BHP, reacting to some of the concerns voiced by local stakeholders about the proposal, set about revising its application to mitigate, where possible, those areas of concern.

“Before, the hearing the applicant asked the city to put the project on hold because they had received communications about concerns with the project, so they proactively wanted to try to address those concerns prior to the hearing,” said Hoquiam City Administrator Brian Shay.


The timing of the new comment period and public hearing are still up in the air.

“We don’t have a revised date as of yet,” said Smith. “The timing will be established after resubmittal of the application, when there will be an additional public comment period followed by the shoreline hearing that had previously been postponed.”

Shay said it’s possible the revised application could be completed some time in April, but again, the timeline is still in flux.

Some comments to the city said it was difficult to properly study the permit documents, which were in transition over the course of the past several months. Shay is working on a way that those who have already gone through hundreds of pages of documents can focus on just what has been changed so they can comment.

“One of the things we hope to do with the new information is to present it to the public in a clear and concise way as to what the changes are so they don’t have to wade through a thousand pages to find them,” said Shay. This could be done on the city website by way of an executive summary.

A lot of the public comment has centered around the increase in train and marine traffic that would come with the potash facility once operational.

“We’re still looking at an initial stage of 4 million tons per year” said Smith. “That’s a forecast of four to five trains and one to two vessels a week.”

Over time, “the intention is to ramp up production to a second stage, which is 8 million tons, eight to 10 trains and three to four vessels a week,” said Smith.

The trains would stretch more than a mile and a half long. BHP plans to build a train loop within the facility that would house the entire length of the train while the product is dropped off.

The timing of the first shipment, if Hoquiam is selected as the site — BHP is looking at another possibility in Vancouver, B.C. — wouldn’t be for several years.

“The first shipment would not occur until at least four years after BHP board approval, which is yet to occur, and then the second stage would not occur until a number of years later,” said Smith.

The board approval Smith spoke of was for the operation of the Jansen Mine in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, where the potash would be coming from. Construction is underway on the mine itself and is making some significant headway.

“We are excavating the shafts at the site, a production and service shaft we are working on at the current time, and I’m pleased to say we have completed excavation activities to the target depth of 1,005 meters – about 3,500 feet – for the service shaft, and about 975 meters on the production shaft as of the end of August 2018,” said Smith.

Terminal 3

Terminal 3 is the westernmost terminal at the Port of Grays Harbor, near Bowerman Airport and the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge. It is currently the home of a Willis Enterprises wood chip facility, which will relocate if the site is chosen for the BHP potash facility. It was chosen as a potential project site by BHP for a number of factors, said Smith.

“Some of the key value drivers we looked at included costs; we are trying to build a project that would sit near the bottom of the cost curve in the potash industry,” he said. “We looked at expandability of sites, timing of when the port facility would be ready, and then the marine freight cost was also another factor. Also, another key was the ability for dual rail access into our facility.”

Written comments

The dozen public comments received by the city have mostly been against the project, focusing on traffic, noise and pollution concerns from increased rail traffic, primarily. Two living near the project site were concerned about impacts on property values and increased noise levels from the operation itself.

Puget Sound and Pacific Railroad President J. Bradley Ovitt wrote that the company “fully supports the BHP project at the Port of Grays Harbor Terminal 3, and we are certain of our ability to safely and efficiently handle the proposed rail traffic on our line through the City of Hoquiam,” said Ovitt.

An area of concern with increased rail traffic is in East Aberdeen around the Gateway Plaza, where trains can cause lengthy delays in and around the Walmart parking area and at times completely cut off access to and from the lot. The Grays Harbor Council of Governments has been working with the state on options to relieve those traffic concerns, including the addition of a roundabout and overpass in the area to change the vehicle and train paths. Port of Grays Harbor Executive Director Gary Nelson called the project a priority at the Port’s recent year-in-review presentation.

“The railroad, the Port and the city are consistently engaged in long-term local and regional planning to ensure that we are all able to accommodate opportunities such as this one,” wrote Ovitt, adding the railroad also works with the State Department of Transportation to upgrade its infrastructure through public-private partnerships.

The Department of Ecology Southwest Region office weighed in with comments dated Nov. 29 and expressed concerns that the potential impact of increased rail traffic to the facility was not discussed in permit applications.

“Although the greenhouse gas emissions from the project equipment seems minimal, the greenhouse gas analysis does not seem to discuss indirect (greenhouse) emissions from increased rail or maritime activity,” read the Ecology comment.

Friends of Grays Harbor, a nonprofit with the goal to “protect the natural environment, human health and safety in Grays Harbor and vicinity through science, advocacy, law, activism and empowerment,” submitted a comment asking the city remove its mitigated determination of non-significance and require a full environmental impact statement for the project.

The group’s comment said it has “serious concerns over the development of ‘potash for export’ facilities on the Grays Harbor shoreline. Such development prevents very significant risks to Grays Harbor’s sensitive ecosystems and surrounding communities. We disagree with the finding of the lead agency, the City of Hoquiam, that the proposed facilities are unlikely to have a significant environmental impact and therefore do not require the preparation of an environmental impact statement.”

The group singles out a statement in the plan that a spill control and countermeasures plan will be developed and submitted to the city prior to operation.

“These plans should be submitted during the SEPA process and prior to permitting,” reads the statement. “If they are done afterward, there is no opportunity for response, feedback and control or whether they are adequate.”

DAN HAMMOCK | GRAYS HARBOR NEWS GROUP                                The dock and conveyer at Terminal 3 at the Port of Grays Harbor.

DAN HAMMOCK | GRAYS HARBOR NEWS GROUP The dock and conveyer at Terminal 3 at the Port of Grays Harbor.

DAN HAMMOCK | GRAYS HARBOR NEWS GROUP                                The dock and conveyer at Terminal 3 at the Port of Grays Harbor.

DAN HAMMOCK | GRAYS HARBOR NEWS GROUP The dock and conveyer at Terminal 3 at the Port of Grays Harbor.