Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Time for the Gateway Pacific MAP Team to Adopt a Mascot

Now that the holidays are over and we’re all sober as judges,[1] it’s time to turn our attention to our favorite team. 

No, Get Whatcom Planning has not succumbed to Super Bowl fever.[2]

I’m talking about a different team.  A team that works in the shadows, out of the glare of publicity, a team that has no spectators, not even a mascot: the Gateway Pacific Multiagency Permit Team, or MAP Team.

As you may recall, the MAP Team has been meeting for over a year.  The Team roster includes the applicants for the Gateway Pacific coal terminal project (SSA Marine and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad) and the government agencies that are charged with regulating the project on behalf of all of us.

My internet dictionary sources define a “team” as “a group on the same side.”  Or “a group organized to work together.”

Of course it makes sense for project applicants to talk to agencies, and it makes sense for agencies to plan ahead.  But do they really need to form a “team”?  Telling the world that they’re “on the same side”?  Or that they “work together” (without the rest of us)?   A year (and then some) is a heckuva lot of team building. 

It's too bad that the MAP Team has no mascot.  I'd like to suggest one: The Public.  I've even provided a domain-free image of the mascot right here in this blog.  (It's clip art entitled "Puzzled.")

You see, if we were the team mascot, maybe they’d let us in the room.

News from the Quasi-Public Website of the Multiagency Permit Team

On December 8, there was a MAP Executive Team briefing.   Notes from the meeting were posted on December 23.  I have access to the MAP Team website and you probably don’t, so allow me to share.

The attendance roster establishes that SSA spokesperson Bob Watters is on the Executive Team.  So are the VP of SSA Marine and BNSF’s lawyer and strategic development director. 

Cindy Zehnder is also on the Executive Team.  She’s a lawyer, and you can’t have too many lawyers on any team, I always say.  Of course, she also is Governor Christine Gregoire’s former chief of staff.  And is now working for SSA as the head of “Governmental Affairs” for Gordon Honeywell Thomas, SSA’s lobbying and law firm.   See page 46.  (Bellingham’s own Craig Cole has identified himself as “SSA Advisor through Gordon-Honeywell Govt. Affairs – see p. 43.)   

With all that high-powered help on hand, I guess that there just wasn’t room for a mascot.

Four days later, on December 13, 2011, the MAP Team itself met – the folks in the agencies that do the day to day work, plus Cindy Zehnder and some other folks from SSA Marine and BNSF.

Here are some highlights from the meeting notes, which you can read for yourself if you like (MAP Team) (Executive Team):

(1)  SSA requested an extension, through March 2012, to file its County permits.  According to the notes of the 12/13 MAP team meeting, the filing of those permits is “expected in January.” 

It wasn’t very nice of them not to tell Craig Cole that they’d be ready to file in January.  A week later, he told the Bellingham Herald that it was “too soon to estimate when the permit applications will be ready.  . . There probably will be more requests for extensions …”

(2) BNSF (the railroad) has submitted an application to the Army Corps of Engineers, but the Department of Ecology is still waiting. This means that BNSF is, yes, an applicant. Subject to the rule of law.  Contrary to rumors that BNSF is an autonomous body around which all other entities revolve, kind of like the sun.[3]

(3) Speaking of BNSF,  the agencies want to know BNSF’s routes for purposes of the environmental impact assessment.  Up until now, we've been hearing that BNSF does what BNSF pleases, and that nobody should even dare to ASK the route along which the coal will be transported to the coal terminal.  But look:

·         “Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) requested route information from BNSF.
·         Ecology and BNSF Railways will discuss permit requirements and how/whether SEPA applies to BNSF applications. This will include discussion of need for BNSF routes to be identified for the SEPA/NEPA process. “

A year ago, SSA was claiming that the environmental review would be done by the end of 2012.  And now we find out that the agencies that will be conducting the review don’t even know the rail route.  But looking on the bright side – at least they know that they need to know.  And maybe someday, we (the public), which has been asked to support this project -- blindly -- will know, too.

(3) In an item called a “schedule clarification,” which by any other name might be called “the law,” Washington Department of Natural Resources said that SSA
“will need to submit a Forest Practices Application prior to starting any activity as defined in the statute (e.g., road clearing). Before reviewing the Forest Practice application, WDNR requires:
i. A declaration from the County that SEPA is complete and
ii. A release letter from the County that permits have been completed.”
I underlined the word “prior.”  The need to get approval in advance is indeed a “schedule clarification” for SSA!  (If you don't know what I mean, here's more information.)

(4)  Speaking of the Department of Natural Resources (WDNR),

“Violation clarifications:
o A request was made to WDNR and the County to explain their decisions regarding the wetlands violation on the GPT [Gateway Pacific Terminal] property. In particular, concern was voiced whether or not decisions were consistent with other, similar actions.
o Nooksack Tribe and the County will meet to discuss details of County‟s decision.
o WDNR will clarify Forest Practices determination for MAP Team.”

Looking forward to that. 

[1] Whatever THAT means.
[2] Speaking solely for the non-cheesehead contributor, that is. 
[3] With respect to this analogy, the public, of course, would be Pluto - -not even a minor planet.


  1. Wish I had some wisdom and wit to add, but suffice it to say I have enormous gratitude for your attention, communication and thoughtful intelligent approach.

  2. Insightful and helpful info as always Professor. Keep your eyes out for an article coming out looking into the legal arm of the coal push in WA state, in the next couple weeks.

    -With gratitude from a former student.