Monday, March 14, 2011

The Ides of March and the Trojan Coal Horse

Bob Ferris:
Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry "Coal!" Speak, ReSources is turn'd to hear.

Dusty Coal:
Beware the ides of March.

Bob Ferris:
What man is that?

Sam Crawford:
A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.

Julius Caesar, Act 1, scene 2, set in modern times.

An interesting drama played out today, although one not worthy of Shakespeare. Not worthy of Whatcom County, or open government, or discussing important issues like civilized adults, either.

As is too often the case on a Monday afternoon before a Tuesday County Council meeting, my e-mail contained a notice that -- voila! -- a new item had been added to the agenda. Surprises from this Council are rarely happy, so I opened the attached notice with some trepdation.

"Resolution encouraging industrial investment in the region’s economic vitality," it said.

Whew, I thought. Who's not in favor of that?

But then I noticed another attachment. "SSA Support Resolution," it said. And here's what the Council is supposed to do tomorrow: resolve "that SSA Marine is encouraged to make this extraordinary investment in Gateway Pacific Terminal,” and "act in concert" with other agencies to “expedite and facilitate initiation and completion of the Gateway Terminal Project, consistent with sound and practical environmental requirements.”

Before the Council made a commitment to support an enormous project that will determine the character of our County for years to come, it surely would have studied all available information about the project and talked to a wide range of people with knowledge about and interest in this project. Right?

Of course, not right.

Bob Ferris and ReSources have been open and public about questioning this project, and the Council didn't even have the courtesy to tell them that this item was coming up! They got the notice at the same time that I did.

Here's what ReSources' Baykeeper wrote, late this afternoon:

Dear County Council Member,

You have been asked to vote Tuesday, March 15th on a resolution in support of SSA Marine's proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point. Substantial changes to the project since its inception, however, mean that the initial permit will demand Council action to be re-approved. Because of your responsibility to evaluate needed revisions to the relevant Shoreline Substantial Permit issued to SSA Marine in 1997, I respectfully submit that it is inappropriate to vote on this resolution either yes or no until this new version of the project is fully understood in the permitting process.

Changes to the project since the 1997 shoreline development permit include the following:

- Increase from 5.85 acres of destroyed wetlands to 141 acres destroyed with 20 acres degraded temporarily.
- Increased throughput from 8.2 million metric tons to 54 million metric tons of bulk goods; this means proportionately more train and vessel traffic.
- Change from food grains, potash, and other commodities to 88% coal and 12% other (48 million tons of coal, 6 million tons of other in their current proposal as posted to the Office of Regulatory Assistance).
- While not addressed in the 1997 permit, the new proposal anticipates degrading 12,800 lineal feet of streams and ditches.
- High potential for coal dust damage to both nearshore and uplands environments. Coal will be stored in a pile on 80 acres of the property, with 2.75 million tons of storage capacity. Blaine City Councilman Black reports being appalled by a visit to Robert's Bank coal terminal at Tsawwassen, which greatly impacts the surroundings despite tower-mounted dust control systems.

I believe all of us should withhold support for this proposal until the impacts of this new version of their project are understood.


Matt Krogh
Matt Krogh, North Sound Baykeeper
RE Sources for Sustainable Communities

You know, this is just horse manure. If the SSA project is nothing but good, let it stand on its own merits. Don't pull this last-minute, approve-it-before-the-public-notices business on us.

Tomorrow's the Ides of March, and we've been warned to beware. Beware the deal that seems too good to be true, because maybe it is. To mix my classical metaphors, let's at least look inside the Trojan Horse before we let it into our County.


  1. Jean, thank you. If nothing else, I have never been so intimately tied to fine literature before.


  2. Thank you for providing some light on this subject.

    I notice that you didn't say that you've never been so intimately tied to horse manure before.

  3. Jean,
    And speaking of manure... No, let me be courteous.

    Here goes: I read in the Herald that Kremen threatens to veto the zoning amendments and that he wants Governors Point to be "rural growth" rather than in a LAMIRD.

    Does "rural growth" still give the developer the license to build-out their property? Or is this a constraint?

    Thank you for translating into plain English!

    Abe Jacobson

  4. This is a sophisticated effort on the part of the applicant to get early political support, politicians on the record in support of the project, before the environmental impact statement is complete.

    No responsible representative, whether official or media, should sign off in favor of this project before that important work is accomplished.

    I expect our nincompoop "Jobs Uber Alles" County Council will break from their counterparts on Bellingham and Blaine city councils and approve this resolution in advance of that report. Their shame is boundless and endless.

  5. I am not sure about the permitting process on this project, but I believe certain aspects could potentially be appealed to the County Council. At the very least county staff will be required to review this project for consistency with a number of county regulations and policies. A resolution by the council before any applications or technical review begins taints the process and if any aspects are appealed would disqualify council members from participation. But that was/is the intent of the applicant's PR campaign - get community leaders to commit before facts are vetted so that those in government charged with vetting facts are less likely to raise issues and those citizens that might have concerns will be less likely to participate because the project has become a done deal before an application has been reviewed.

  6. Excellent points by both Dan McShane and Anon36. Not only is the county likely to hear a quasi-judicial matter (Shoreline Permit), but it's the CO-LEAD AGENCY for the Environmental Impact Assessment.

    Here's what the law says --

    [A]ll branches of government of this state, including state agencies, municipal and public corporations, and COUNTIES SHALL:

    (a) Utilize a systematic, interdisciplinary approach which will INSURE the integrated use of the natural and social sciences and the environmental design arts in PLANNING and in DECISION MAKING which may have an impact on the environment;

    (b) [I]nsure that presently unquantified environmental amenities and values will be given appropriate consideration in decision making along with economic and technical considerations;

    (c) Include in every RECOMMENDATION or report on proposals for legislation and other major actions significantly affecting the quality of the environment, a detailed statement . . .[that's the EIS, which is supposed to consider alternatives.]

    Or, as one author said, "The purpose of SEPA is simple: governmental action should be environmentally informed. This simple goal stands in contrast to a history of development, permitting, legislative proposals, and other governmental actions that are memorable for the lack of foresight with which the decisions were made."

    In other words, for all sorts of reasons, the County isn't supposed to make up its mind until the environmental process is done.

    Abe, we'll get back to the rural element soon. There's just too much subdued excitement in this place at the moment.

  7. Breaking news -- the Resolution added to the agenda yesterday has been pulled OFF the agenda today. Leaving one to wonder how the agenda gets formulated, and with how much thought and concern for constituents.

    But it's stil the Ides of March, and there's still that Rural Element lurking out there.

  8. I received the event notice from David (via TW) and was about to forward it solicit more support. Meanwhile, I checked comments at the TW site and here, see that the item has apparently been pulled from the agenda. Okay. I then checked the COB site and can find only an agenda dated March 14, 2011 (Monday), not an agenda for tonight. When I called the agenda phone number (778-8219) the recorded message explained that the next scheduled council meeting is on May 24. It would be great if someone could provide some clarity and guidance. Should we be soliciting attendance for a meeting this evening? I can solicit emails and calls to council members, but I do not want to misrepresent the timing for the meeting in which the agenda item will be heard. Thanks to anyone who can help!

  9. Hi Greg,

    Sounds like you were looking at the City web site. The County's agendas link from here:

    Interestingly enough, when I checked a few seconds ago, the County's web page still showed that the SSA Resolution has been added to the agenda. But Bellingham Herald reporter John Stark posted that it's been pulled off the agenda, so it's not just me -- others got the revision-to-the-revision, too.

    I think that it's safe to say that it won't be considered this evening. But there will still be an Open Session, so if people want to attend the meeting, they can still speak on the issue.

  10. This is what I'm sending to the Council:

    Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point – Don't Try to Railroad This Through!

    I am very angry about the way the Council continues to pursue an aggressive pro-development agenda by repeatedly taking action without allocating adequate time for public review and discussion. The Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point would clearly have major long term detrimental impacts on the quality of life of city and county residents. The number of permanent jobs created is a very small benefit when weighed against these impacts.

    I would like to remind the Council that tourism is an important source of revenue, and our area is a very popular destination. Bellingham and Whatcom County are regularly ranked high on lists of "best place to ...".
    I don't think we want to be the best place to see coal trains or coal dust, or wait at railroad grade crossings, to name just a few of the negative effects of the proposed terminal.

    There are major environmental issues that need to be addressed and discussed in public hearings before any endorsement of this proposal should be made.