Thursday, February 23, 2012

Coal Terminal Update: We’re Throwing a Party!

Save the Date:  
March 20, 2012
Place:  Bellingham High School
Time:  TBD
Why:  Whatcom County Taxpayers are throwing a “pre-scoping” party for the Gateway Pacific Terminal!

Despite the fact that Whatcom County has not received completed applications for the Gateway Pacific Terminal, County staff are working very diligently to make sure that Gateway Pacific’s delay doesn’t cause Gateway Pacific any delay. 

Gateway Pacific has until March 19 to submit its applications to the County.  The County will officially roll out its environmental impact assessment process on March 20, the very next day.  Yee Haw! 

Whatcom County must have a crystal ball!  It can tell already that this version of the application will be complete and ready for scoping!   

This March 20 "pre-scoping" session is the culmination of more than a year of County staff work on behalf of the Gateway Pacific terminal.  Read through the e-mails posted on the County web site, and you’ll get a sense of the County’s painstaking attention to this matter.  Staff have been working with the state-sponsored Multiagency Permitting Team (the MAP team), staff have been working with the project applicant, staff have been working to make sure that the consultant team is ready to go. 

Staff travel, staff meetings, staff communication, staff review.  Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of staff hours.

And who’s paying for staff time? Well, what a rude question.

But if we must talk about money -- it turns out that We the Taxpayers are footing the bill.  After the first $2,625.00.

Gateway Pacific’s payment for the preparation of the environmental impact statement is limited, by the County’s fee schedule, to $2,625.  That covers about 20 hours of staff time.  Everything above and beyond that time is a gift from all of us to all of them.  SSA Marine, Goldman Sachs, BNSF. . . .

After all, they need the money more than we do.

It used to be that the County’s fee schedule charged applicants $100 per hour for all staff time in excess of 20 hours.  But the County amended its fee schedule last year to eliminate those hourly payments (which other counties do charge).  (And of course, Whatcom County charges for staff time for many smaller projects that go across the permit desk.) 

So – we should all make sure to attend this “pre-scoping” party, since we’re paying for all of the County staff time that has gone into planning and preparing for it.   Party down!

Oh -- and if you want SSA Marine to help pay for the party, think about contacting County Executive Jack Louws.  He can change the fee schedule.  So can the County Council.

For the memo setting the date of the scoping session, see this set of e-mails  at page 33. 

For correspondence relating to the fee schedule, the application, and scoping, see my e-mails and Tyler Schroeder’s responses:This set of emails  at page 101,and this set of e-mails  at pages 2-4.


  1. Jean, forgive me, but was your writing? I see no reason why multi-billion dollar corporations shouldn't be subsidized by Whatcom County taxpayers.

    1. I suspect that your last line and my observations are about on a par in terms of sarcasm. Which I prefer to think of as lightheartedness in the fact of circumstances that might otherwise lead to anger. So yeah, anger management, that's what it is.

  2. How dare you go and read those public documents and talk about what they won't announce publicly. Bad, bad. You must be the reason they haven't updated the correspondence on the PDS GPT page for 2 weeks.
    Seriously, thanks for talking about the elephant in the living room. Another little elephant: in the MAP Team's Project Mgmt – Critical Path Schedule and Task Details (, in addition to all those annoying "TBD's," not one word about determinations of completeness. They're all (Corps, WDOE, WCPDS) selecting the consultant and moving forward without any idea when -- or even if -- WC will ever get a complete shoreline permit application.

  3. The fee schedule change was an astonishingly bad idea of gifting public resources. Since the application is not yet submitted perhaps the county council could act quickly and amend the fee schedule. I would note that they had no adopted a fee schedule for 2012 and the 2011 fee schedule was carried over by Executive Order.

    1. Actually, the County can act at any time it chooses, since fees don't vest. It's just a matter of the Executive or the Council deciding that the applicant, rather than the taxpayers, should pay for the costs of processing the application.

      I just read through the e-mails that the County posted from early last year, and many people in the County apparently have been well aware of this issue since around this time last year. I guess that they just don't see any reason to change the status quo.

    2. I think there is a need for ballance on fees. Full charge for all small projects creates a sense of resentment for those that are being regulated. For example: you own a shoreline property and want to do a remodel and suddenly you are needing to pay numerous consultants and numerous fees all for the public good. Hence, I am not a big fan of full cost fees, but putting a cap on fees does not get at the problem. The "little guy" still gets hit with full costs and the "big" dificult permits get subsidized. The council really needs to think this through and soon.

    3. Last January, Gateway Pacific's consultant was practically begging the County to let it pay for "a dedicated fund, hiring someone half time, etc." to help with staffing.

      Overall, the e-mails indicate that Gateway Pacific gets priority service anyway, despite the lack of funding and the paucity of staff at PDS.

  4. And the State Audit Report, on PDS Fees?

    Short Mystic Cord of Memory?

  5. Mr/Ms Anonymous is probably referring to a report about building permits in 2008. The report said that it wasn't clear whether Whatcom County could recover indirect costs for processing building permits, and concluded that the County should limit its building permit fees to direct costs. The report is here:,

    If the County recovered any part of its direct costs (other than the first $2,625) for the processing of the Gateway Pacific EIS, that would reduce the taxpayer subsidy of this project. Perhaps that was Anonymous's point.