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BELLINGHAM, Wash. - Hundreds for and against a controversial proposal to build a coal export pier near Cherry Point packed a Bellingham High School Saturday.

An environmental impact study of the Gateway Pacific Terminal will start in a few months. First, regulators are gathering public input on the potential impacts of the project and what areas need further study.

Hundreds were given two minutes to share their feelings with panels made up of staff from Whatcom County, the Department of Ecology and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Bellingham resident Julie Trimingham said she s concerned about her family.

I want to know how such a proposal would affect my son's life both directly and indirectly, she said.

Others talked about increased train traffic, pollution and other negative impacts on the environment.

It impacts all my brother and sister fisherman out there because we're losing our resources out there, said Walter Young.

The event is known as a scoping meeting and helps direct which environmental impacts should be studied. The meeting in Bellingham is one of seven where people will be allowed to speak to regulators.

Proponents say the terminal, proposed by SSA Marine, will bring tax money and jobs to the region. Company leaders say they ve heard the community s concerns and believe an environmental review will show the benefits outweigh any negative impacts.

It's a very extensive, exhaustive process to study air quality, water quality, traffic and economics, Vice President Bob Watters explained.

Some residents are skeptical of the process and hope the review will look at all the possible impacts.

The runoff from coal does get into the water and the soil, said Nicole Brown.

Brown is an organic farmer and says she s also concerned about her family.

When it's safer to eat food out of a can than your own backyard; that concerns me, she said.

Those looking at the project say all those concerns and the potential benefits will be considered as this process moves forward. The Environmental Impact Study will take a few years, if it s approved the terminal could be operating by 2017.

For more information about other public meetings or to leave feedback on the project go to: http://www.eisgatewaypacificwa.gov/

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