Spoiler alert: This blog entry does, eventually, live up to its billing – it will indeed provide access to some of the Gateway Pacific documents that are more-or-less publicly available. But first, a little question and answer session.
1. Why is there a picture of an ostrich with its head in the sand?
Because that’s how the public agencies are acting. They seem to believe that the public will leave them alone if they pretend that agencies aren’t already working on the Gateway Pacific project.
2. What do you mean, agencies are already working on the Gateway Pacific project? I thought that the permit process hadn’t started yet.
There’s a quasi-public record of meetings that started in November 2010. On November 16, 2010, a “Multiagency Permitting” Team (“MAP Team”) started meeting. Here’s a link to the sign-in sheet, and here are notes of the first meeting. Here's a list of MAP Team members.
3. What’s a “quasi-public” record?
Agency documents (at least some of them, but more on that later) have been posted to a state-run web site. Here’s the link: http://iprmt.ora.wa.gov/NewUser.htm
You’ll see something unusual on that portal. It says “For public access to the Gateway Pacific Terminal MAP Team Web site please contact Scott Boettcher by email at ScottB@sbgh-partners.com.”
When I signed in, I didn’t feel like contacting Scott Boettcher by e-mail. I felt like looking at public documents. So I tried to log in, couldn’t get access to anything, and said to heck with it.
Several days later, Scott Boettcher contacted me!
Hi Jean. You now have access to the GPT Project Web site. You can log in more directly through https://secureaccess.wa.gov/ofm/iprmt24/site/alias__1357/22844/default.aspx. This should put you on the Welcome page right after you log in. Look forward to hearing from you about this website. Thank you for your effort to register and seek access to the site.
Scott sounds like a pleasant fellow, but I didn’t write back to let him know how I felt about the web site. This would be because I not feeling positive about having to make an “effort” to register, and to “seek” access to the site.
4. So now you have access, right? Why are you complaining?
I don’t think that a firewall between public documents and the public is a good idea. Some of the reasons are in this letter, submitted by Salish Land Policy Solutions.
Another reason came out of a conversation with someone who has approached the state to ask why they put up this firewall. “We like to see who’s looking at the documents” was the response.
It’s none of Big Brother’s business.
5. Hey, where would the Gateway Pacific project be built, anyway?
Right here in Whatcom County.
6. So why doesn’t Whatcom County post these public documents on its web site, so the people of Whatcom County don’t have to meet Scott Boettcher in order to look at them?
Excellent question! And one that I asked, too! The County’s response was that it would not start a web site until it obtained a project application.
7. What’s wrong with that?
Technically, nothing, I suppose. The County isn’t required to provide public access to documents unless the public requests those documents. HINT! HINT!
But really, Ostrich County. Has nobody in County government seen the full page ads promoting the project? Heard the radio ads? Noticed that a City forum attracted hundreds of people, with hundreds more turned away? Is this not a current issue?
Furthermore, Whatcom County has been participating in the MAP Team from the beginning.
Furthermore, Whatcom County submitted ONE—count ‘em, ONE – e-mail from a County resident to the MAP Team for posting. I hear that the county has received well in excess of 300 e-mails on this topic, but it forwarded this ONE e-mail. Here it is.
The County would not want the agencies involved in the MAP Team to believe that this ONE e-mail encapsulated the views of all Whatcom County residents. Would it? That’s why I suggested that the County might want to start its own web site: to provide broader access AND to ensure that all comments are treated equally.
8. So who would I contact at the County to comment on the project, or request a project web site?
Another excellent question!Comments or questions about the project:
Roland Middleton (project manager): email@example.com
County Executive Pete Kremen: firstname.lastname@example.org
Comments on “scoping” or environmental impacts:
Tyler Schroeder (SEPA official): email@example.com
9. Some people say that the project will only provide 89 jobs. Where does that come from?
Confusion over the jobs number demonstrates that the public needs access to these documents. The 89 job figure comes from this document (large file), available on the MAP Team web site. The document was prepared by the project applicant, Pacific International Terminals, Inc. and is called Project Information Document, dated Feb. 28, 2011.
Specifically from this part:
Operating hours for the Terminal are anticipated to be 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. When fully developed the Terminal is expected to employ 213 people. Table 4–3 shows the anticipated numbers of Terminal employees for each operational phase.
Table 4–3 Estimated Number of Terminal Employees by Shift for Each Operational Phase
Approximate Year (estimated)
Operational Capacity (Mtpa)8
7 AM–4 PM
3 PM–12 AM
11 PM-8 AM
*Mtpa = Million metric tons per annum
10. What about access to documents?
I’m not employed by either Whatcom County or the project applicant, so clearly it’s my obligation to sit inside on a beautiful sunny day in order to create links! Well, OK, I didn’t feel like I could enjoy the sunshine until there was some sunlight. So here are some links:
MAP Meeting with Whatcom County Warning: this is a very strange document.
Whatcom County comments on the applicant's Project Information Document
There are lots more document on the MAP Team web site. Do you want them to be made public, not just quasi-public? The County is the level of government closest to the public. Speak to the County.
UPDATE on cost reimbursement, June 7:
Anonymous and David raise some interesting points about the cost of the MAP Team. According to the notes of the "MAP Meeting" (see the link above), the County's position is:"The County can collect an application fee and, above a certain amount, charge hourly for SEPA review. However, they need an application to get the process started. They are hoping to start a pre-application process, which also lets them recover costs. The pre-application information can be fairly simple and abbreviated. The County asked ORA to help convey the importance of starting the pre-application process to the applicant.
The County prefers to use their existing permit fee and hourly charge system for cost reimbursement rather than some other arrangement, such as cost-reimbursement contract through ORA."
So it looks like the answer is that the County will be working for free until the applicant decides to start the "pre-application" process.
State agencies, on the other hand, have signed a cost reimbursement agreement with the state Office of Regulatory Assistance, which is running the MAP Team. Here's a link to the agreement.
I wonder if the County is thinking about getting some cost reimbursement for the costs involved in providing public access to comments and agency documents, if the state isn't willing to do so. When comments start coming in from the cities and residents all along the rail lines, not just Whatcom County, this project is going to overwhelm County staff. With planning staff cut to the bone and beyond, we're extraordinarily ill-equipped to deal with a project of this magnitude.
UPDATE on posting public comments, June 7:
As Terry mentioned, the "General Interest" tab has been de-activated. There's a cryptic little discussion of this issue in the "Action Items" document (see link, above). If you get onto the MAP Team web site and click the "General Interest" tab, it now says this:
ORA is in the process of refining its process for posting stakeholder perspective and information related to the GPT Project. Content previously available on this General Interest Tab has been temporarily removed. ORA will communicate the process for posting of stakeholder perspective and information following the next regularly scheduled MAP Team meeting. Thank you for your patience.
A proposed approach for addressing and posting external content and stakeholder perspective to the GPT MAP Team Website has been drafted, is undergoing internal OFM review and will be distributed to the full MAP Team for review and input by June 10, 2011.
So maybe we'll know something by. . August 11, the next regularly scheduled MAP Team meeting? BUT WAIT -- the "tentative schedule" (see link above) says that the scoping process is going to start in July. It would be nice if they could figure out how to deal with public input before the scoping process begins.
UPDATE of the UPDATES, June 9:
The "e-mail from Pete" was actually an e-mail from Pete to a constituent. I've seen it before. Pete didn't speak directly to Get Whatcom Planning -- sigh. But he did post the same message to the County's web page -- http://www.co.whatcom.wa.us/executive/news/2011/gptupdate060811.pdf.
Thanks to Anonymous for sending the link to the new Gateway Pacific page on the Planning and Development Services' web site: http://www.co.whatcom.wa.us/pds/plan/current/gpt-ssa/index.jsp. One suggestion for the County: could you add a direct link under "Hot Topics" on the County's home page? It's not easy to find the dedicated Gateway Pacific page from the County's main web page, and I believe that there might be a few people in the County who don't read our blog. Shocking as that may be.
Once you know that the Gateway Pacific page is on the Planning and Development Services' site, it's easy to find the page -- there's a link from the main page. Thanks, PDS! And my continued empathy about handling the public comments issue. I hear that there are several hundred per week coming in.
For those interested in media coverage of the project, here's a link to a King 5 news report shot in Bellingham. The job figures are always interesting -- this report says "around 300," which I guess is close to 213. If you round up.