BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- Whatcom County is prepared to fine Seattle-based company SSA Marine after it says the company built a series of roads through sensitive woodlands without the proper permit.

SSA Marine has proposed a $500 million multi-commodities terminal at Cherry Point. It would receive shipments of commodities like coal and ship it over the Pacific to China. The company says the two miles or so of dirt road is necessary to allow heavy equipment to conduct environmental impact studies in the area of the proposed terminal.

The company has not officially applied for the state and federal permits, and the required environmental impact studies have not begun. A company spokesman says SSA Marine, though it was permitted to build the roads based on a permit it received for a separate terminal in 1997.

Whatcom County decided Monday that SSA Marine exceeded its permit. It also says the company is in violation because it failed to protect sensitive wetlands.

They have a lot of explaining to do, says Pete Kremen, County Executive. For them to disregard our regulations on something this important just amazes me.

Kremen says the company could face fines from the county and the state Department of Ecology for the violations.

My administration is very serious about this issue and a slap on the wrist is not what we're looking at, says Kremen.

In a statement from SSA Marine, company Vice President Bob Watters says, As soon as we became aware there was a question about our compliance, we ordered an immediate stop to all work until we had cleared up the matter. We have reconfirmed to all our employees and contractors on the Gateway project that SSA Marine has a strict standard of full compliance with all environmental regulations.

Kremen says the county's rules must be followed.

It certainly does raise questions about their claim about how concerned they are about following all the rules and regulations, he says.

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