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.
Beware the ides of March.
What man is that?
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, 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.