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.


  1. The county planners did the right thing asking for a new application. You point out that a new application would vest under the new rules. It should also be noted that the whatever mitigation on wetlands does take place (if a project ever does come forward) will be much greater under the new rules than the old. I do not recall the mitigation ratios but under the new CAO they are substantially greater. Payment scheme debate or not, if this project moves forward it will have to do a great deal more mitigation.
    Pepermint sticks for the Whatcom County planners!

  2. Thank you for such a great and concise update. I sometimes get drowned in all the SSA Marine details. Where would we be without you guys?

  3. Thanks, Riley, I'm glad that it's helpful. I just added a short update noting that the County approved the extension request.