Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bunker Fuel Kills Herring

San Francisco Oil Spill Beach Closures

I was in a bad mood.   

Because I was in a bad mood, I indulged myself with a longish blog. 

Although statistics prove that our readership is directly correlated with the length of the blog (short = more), the cleverness of the title (boring = fewer), and the interest level of the picture up top (Wile E.Coyote rules!), I wrote a long blog with a boring title and a dull picture. Unsurprisingly, it went quite widely unread.

But right now, I’m feeling like a prophet.

Down at the bottom, where it’s probably safe to assume that few readers dared tread, I went on a rant about bunker fuel.   I quoted a ten-year old article about bunker fuel (BORING!), which said:

Although only oil tankers can cause very large spills, many bulk carriers and container ships carry bunker fuel of 10,000 tonnes or more – these are larger quantities than many of the world's tankers carry as cargo.

Most importantly, ships' bunkers normally consist of heavy fuel oils, which in general are highly viscous and persistent. A relatively small quantity of highly persistent bunker fuel can be disproportionately damaging and costly to remove in comparison, for example, with a substantial cargo of light crude oil.

Bunker Spill Risk,” 2001.

The Gateway Pacific project will bring Cherry Point 487 bulk carriers at buildout, including some of the biggest in the world. 

Carrying bunker fuel.

To a pier located in herring habitat.  (Read more about herring here, in Bob Simmons’ article in Crosscut.)  

So what’s new? 

In an article that was just published by the National Academies of Science, researchers examined the effects of a relatively small spill of bunker fuel in San Francisco Bay.  What did they find? 

That oil is far more toxic to herring than we had believed.
The effect of bunker oil on Pacific herring was so profound and unexpected that it now redefines our understanding of the sensitivity of fish embryos to oil—even in an environment where there's a lot of preexisting background pollution.” (That’s from coverage in Mother Jones, which includes a video showing the spread of the spill.) 

Our own Bellingham Herald published an article that quoted one of the coauthors of the herring study:

"Bunker fuel is used worldwide and is spilled relatively often," Cherr said. "It is important to look at small spills in sensitive areas."

So what?

In my experience, environmental impact statements tend to view the risk of accidents as an impact that cannot be mitigated. In other words, if there's a risk, you live with it. 

With 487 bulk carriers per year, we need to know the risk.  Even more important, we need to understand the consequences of a bunker fuel spill.

And so, the EIS needs to tell us, very clearly and without shirking:  if there is a bunker fuel spill, what will happen to the Cherry Point aquatic reserve? 

Herring for coal.  If there's a trade to be made, we must at least make it mindfully.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Coal, Stockings, Grinches

I intended to keep this coal terminal-related blog a holiday-free zone.  In particular, there were to be no “Santa’s bringing lumps of coal” references, no matter how tempting. 

But apparently this just isn’t possible.  The spirit of the holidays has wormed its way too deeply into my brain, blocking all literary paths that would bypass seasonal imagery.  At this time of the year, “coal” and “stocking” just go together, like “horse” and “carriage.”  (But maybe not like “love” and “marriage” --   “U.S. Marriage Rates at All-Time Low.”.)

Anyway, here's a quick update:

1.  No coal in Whatcom County’s stocking – this year.

SSA Marine, one of the applicants for the Gateway Pacific coal terminal, asked the Whatcom County Planning and Development Services Department for a second 90-day extension to complete its application for a “Major Project Permit.”  The first 90-day extension ended today.  Here’s SSA's letter.

UPDATE, 12/21/11:   The County granted the extension request today (12/21).  Here's the letter, which asks the applicant to "work diligently to accomplish the outstanding requirements" and submit the application before March 19, 2012, the extended deadline 

The County notes that it has been working with the other "lead agencies" to prepare a "Request for Proposals," which is the notice that will provide the basis for hiring a consultant to prepare the Environmental Impact Statement.  Until the applications are complete, however, the County can't prepare the "Determination of Significance" that is the formal start of the state environmental impact assessment process.   

As you may (or may not) recall, SSA submitted its first County permit applications on June 10, 2011.  The County found that the "Major Project Permit" application was incomplete and that SSA needed to submit a new “Shoreline Substantial Development Permit” application.  The County’s letter, dated June 23, 2011, is here.

Does this matter?

Well, it means that the “scoping” process for the Environmental Impact Assessment process will be delayed.  There were thoughts that it would begin in March, but it looks like there will be a new timeline.

It also could, possibly, affect the applicability of the wetland in-lieu mitigation fee program that may apply to Cherry Point. (See "The Birch Bay-Cherry Point Kerfuffle.")   

If the application is “complete” BEFORE the fee program is adopted, the fee program would not apply to it.  In technical terms, the project would have “vested” under existing laws.  If the wetland fee program hasn’t been adopted yet when the application is completed, it won't be an "existing law."

If the County adopts an in-lieu fee program that applies to Cherry Point, and the coal terminal application is “complete” AFTER the date that the program is adopted, the in-lieu fee program would apply to the coal terminal project.

Now, before somebody starts yelling at me, let me say that I have no idea whether SSA cares about the in-lieu fee program.  I have no idea why SSA asked for another extension rather than submitting its completed applications today.  The in-lieu fee program may well have nothing to do with it.

I’m just describing the laws that would apply to the project, not attributing motivation.

2.  Jobs Santa or Jobs Grinch?

When we’re calculating how many jobs the Gateway Pacific coal terminal will provide, how big is our universe?  Should we only look at the terminal itself?  Should we think about impacts on jobs outside the terminal?  Outside of Whatcom County?

A letter from the city of Burlington’s Chamber of Commerce to Washington legislators makes a case for casting a wider net than just the coal terminal project itself, or just Whatcom County.

The letter urges “a rigorous and detailed analysis that accurately evaluates all direct, indirect, and cumulative adverse impacts to Burlington and Skagit County businesses, including traffic delays. While the applicant’s public relations campaign promises to add hundreds of jobs at the terminal, it is silent about the net loss of jobs along the train route, so the potential loss of jobs and revenues in Burlington and Skagit County deserves the utmost consideration.”

Of course, we can say “Who cares about Burlington?”

Or we can say “We need to think about others.”

To all the Whos in Whoville -- have a happy holiday, and may you find no lumps of coal in your stockings.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Let's Do the Time Warp Again

Happy belated birthday to us!

I was thinking that somebody (preferably David) ought to write a year-end retrospective about all of the de-planning that's gone on in Whatcom County in 2011.

And I thought to myself, when did David start this blog?

The answer is:  October  16, 2011 So we missed our own birthday.  And I would point out that nobody threw us a party.

What really caught my eye, though, was the very first comment on this very first blog entry.

What has changed in the year-plus since then?

  • The County still has an "emergency" windpower moratorium.
  • The County Council keeps approving development that chips away at our agricultural base.
  • Wetlands and trees destroyed, with nobody there to stop it and just a little fine and stop-work order. . . .hmmm. . . .did SSA use this comment as a how-to manual for its illegal clearing at Cherry Point?  
  • Caitac -- well, Caitac got its upzone at the last County Council meeting, but anyone who thinks it's all over now, please raise your hand.  Don't see any hands. 
Since Whatcom County appears to be caught in a time warp,  maybe this will do the job as our year-end retrospective: an excerpt from the comment that "Whatcom Rural Citizen for 30 Years" wrote on October 16, 2010.

I have lived/farmed in rural Whatcom County for 30 years. It is so heartbreaking to watch everyone talk about avoiding sprawl; we have meetings and meetings to come up with zoning laws and long term land-use plans in order to protect the AG lands and our rural character; but then exception after exception is made by the Council and we watch the continued sprawl creep over our rural lands. Some developers know that enforcement is non-existent so they roar in and knowingly break the laws. A fine and a little stop-work order won't put the trees and wetlands back after they destroy them. So a few neighbors complain, the developer gets a little fine and maybe a delay but those wetlands and trees are already gone now and noone at the zoning department saw what was there before. So it works out way better for the developer to trash it first and deal with the problems later.

I remember attending the first public rezone meetings for the Caitac property a long time ago. David Syre of the Trillium Corp. was very involved in it then. So many people turned out and look at Cordata now. City! . . .

Then to top it off, the Council puts an EMERGENCY moratorium on Wind Generators to stop community owned wind energy projects! My goodness, it's a true emergency! A windmill might ruin our County! But rezoning and clustering our County to death with more unneeded houses and shopping areas with a tourist hotel is exactly what we need!

We live in such a special place and I watch this insanity while the sprawl continues. The County government announces it is cutting over 100 jobs because we are low on funds. But remember- Growth is good for our economy! Yeah! Right!

I don't really have an uplifting conclusion for this blog.  So I'll just end it.  Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Year of Sprawling Achievements

First of all: do read what David wrote about Caitac.  Ships passing in the night -- I hadn't known that he blogged when I wrote this. 

The County Council is meeting tonight at 7:00 at the County Council Chambers, 311 Grand Ave., Bellingham.  Here’s a link to the agenda.  

The County Council is ending its year with a bang, not a whimper. 

Whatcom County truly outdid itself this year when it comes to sprawl.  The Ferndale Urban Growth Area debacle, the Rural Element, the piecemeal upzoning of hundreds of additional acres of property – the list goes on.

And on.  The County is proposing to expand development potential even more tonight, by (1) the unilateral, piecemeal expansion Bellingham’s Urban Growth Area in the Yew Street area, and (2) upzoning the enormous Caitac property north of Bellingham’s city limits, the subject of David's blog.

Here's my letter on both items.
Here's Dan McShane's letter on the Yew Street UGA expansion.

The County has paid tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to defend sprawl before the Growth Management Hearings Board.  It lost most of those cases.   

If it passes these measures tonight, it will pay tens of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars more in its fight for sprawl.

Me?  I’d rather have those dollars go to support the Food Bank.

If you agree, come to the hearing and make your views knows.

(The picture is what comes up when you type "sprawl" into Word Clip Art.  I guess that we know it when we see it.)

UPDATE:  Read more about Yew Street here: Salish Sea Communications.

And here's a letter to the County Council from People for Lake Padden:

December 5, 2011

Re: Yew Street Rezoning Proposal

I am writing to you on behalf of the group People for Lake Padden ( <> ) requesting that the Whatcom County Council postpone action on rezoning the Yew Street neighborhood until the county has sufficient scientific and land use information to make a knowledge-based decision that protects the Lake Padden watershed and the health of Lake Padden. 

Several years ago, the Lake Padden watershed was given a watershed protection designation, the area was removed from Urban Growth Area status, and a portion of this area was rezoned as an urban reserve, in order to protect the lake from degradation.  It would therefore be unwise to undo these decisions without taking into account their potential for negative impacts on the lake.

People for Lake Padden is a citizen’s initiative which is collaborating with City, County, and University professionals to conduct scientific studies of this lake and its watershed. These studies and community discussion should inform the discussion and decisions regarding the land use designations in the watershed, education and regulatory measures to reduce the amount of pollutants entering the lake through the watershed, and any zoning or rezoning changes.

Results from these studies will be available in 2012 and shared with watershed residents and with the State DOE, the County and the City of Bellingham. It would be premature to move forward now with any rezoning until the public and the county have had the opportunity to review and discuss the findings and recommendations.

Lake Padden is one of the crown jewels enjoyed by many residents of Whatcom County and the City of Bellingham. The health of our lake is determined by how well we manage our activities as stewards of the Lake Padden watershed. Let’s wait until the studies are done to make any decisions about rezoning the Yew Street portion of the Lake Padden watershed.

Thank you,
Betsy Gross, Director
People for Lake Padden
715-1173 <>