Saturday, January 26, 2013

120 Days

120 Days.

If you recall, Get Whatcom Planning began the discussion about how long scoping should take. Professor Melious corrected me that the scoping period matters:
"If the agencies have convinced themselves that they must finish scoping within 60 days, then they will have a good reason not to conduct scoping sessions along the rail route. In 60 days, it's hard to see how they can provide fair access to communities...The agencies have steadfastly refused to provide any information on the "scope" of the project...Scoping is a critical juncture...comments have to provide evidence that the alternative is reasonable and feasible."
Last June, after the application was submitted and consultants were identified to do the EIS process, a contract for those consultant services was put before the Whatcom County Council. Heeding the advice from Professor Melious, I reviewed that contract and suggested the public write Whatcom County, the State of Washington and the Army Corps of Engineers and ask for a 120 day scoping period.  And, they did.

It turns out that the 120 days had an impact. Over 6,000 comments were received online in the last month alone. Even Burlington Northern and Peabody Energy took advantage of the 120 days, submitting their comments on the very last day.

The Northwest Washington Central Labor Council commented that they were a "spectator to the hype and theatre that the public testimony phase of the scoping hearings yielded." This picture from Gateway Pacific Terminal's website shows that they had a front row seat to that hype at the Ferndale hearing. Also in this picture are the Mayor's of Ferndale and Lynden, who also showed up to hearings in Seattle, and wrote their own letter that was submitted by Ken Oplinger, Chamber of Commerce President and Blaine city council member.
But, while there was no doubt some hype and theatre took place in this scoping process, I am very impressed by the depth and understanding that many, many organizations and individuals gained during this process. Thanks to many who helped educate and inform people (ReSources, Coal Train Facts, Communitywise Bellingham, 350, Climate Solutions, Sierra Club, Protect Whatcom). You made this incredible outpouring of support happen to address the very issues that Professor Melious raised nearly one year ago on this blog.

Here are some comment highlights:

City Comments:
County Comments:
Federal Agencies:
State Agencies:
Tribal Comments:
Concerned Groups:
Happy Reading!



  1. David, thanks for all that you and Jean do for the community through your clear thinking and community inspiring posts. This index of comments is very useful!

  2. Frank,

    David and Jean have indeed worked hard on this process. They work hard and effectively at everthing they get involved in.

    I would, however, caution you that the above is hardly an index of comments. In fact, it is, for the most part, but not completely, an index of comments you are likely to agree with.

    To get other perspectives one would have to look at the thousands of other comments from other "concerned groups," etc. not "indexed" in the above.

    That is neither good nor bad. It is simply the case.

  3. Jean has to take a fair amount of the blame for all those comments. I remember sitting in the jury box in the courthouse at Dan Pike's townhall meeting where he asked Jean to explain scoping to us. I remember her talking about all phases of the process the permits would go through, and going back to scoping and, in her usual fashion, saying it twice so we would remember, "Scoping is the most important phase" because if issues didn't go into the record, they wouldn't be scoped. I decided that night that's where I would put all my energy. So Jean's the godmother of the scoping workshops, but you're the godfather for getting us 120 days to hold those workshops in four counties, particularly Whatcom, Skagit, and San Juan. Nicole's the genie for taking my dry Guide to Writing a Scoping Comment and turning it into something with breath and life. And James was the guru for pulling us together into a force actually doing something with what we'd developed and driving us into the world to spread the word. In combination with the enormous campaign of the leading environmental ngos throughout the region and Re-Sources locally, the response to scoping was unprecedented. What an experience.

  4. Terry, I am in awe of the educational effort that you, Nicole, and James developed and implemented. The results are tangible: thousands of comments that describe the real-life concerns of people who want to understand how this project will affect them.

    Jack, I'm not sure what you mean when you refer to comments that we are likely to "agree with." These are all comments asking for the evaluation of impacts, mitigation measures, and alternatives. For example, the Skagit County sheriff wrote: "My concern with the increased rail cars is the additional delays we will all experience when responding to emergency type calls. . . In a profession where oftentimes 'seconds' matter. . .an unfortunate delay at a RR crossing may make us 'minutes' away."

    Do I "agree" with that letter? Well, sure, I agree that this is a concern that needs to be addressed, based on the Sheriff's experience.

    If you are suggesting that the project applicant doesn't agree that the listed concerns should be addressed, that may be the case. If it is the case, the applicant and its spokespeople need to stop saying that they are committed to a "complete" environmental review that will provide the community with the information that it needs to evaluate the project fairly.

    The applicant has stated that it plans to build a project that will not harm the environment -- which would make it the first and only coal export facility on the face of the earth that does not harm the environment. If this is still the case, the applicant has to be prepared to address the issues raised in the scoping comments.

    After all, the applicant and the MAP team has been planning for this project for years. The rest of us have had 120 days. There can't be anything in those comments that the applicant hasn't thought about. Or anything to be afraid of, if the applicant really does intend to meet its commitment to build the first environmentally-sound coal terminal in the world.

  5. Jack, the first four links to comments were from the Railroad, Peabody, Labor Council (hype and theatre) and small city mayors.

  6. I'm curious why Pierce County's official comment isn't included in the list.

    Here is a link to it (the original document submitted by Pierce County Executive Pat McCarty on July 23, 2012) -

    Thank you.

    Stacy Emerson

    1. The Pierce County comments were submitted to the heads of agencies (not to the NEPA/SEPA officials) prior to the scoping period. They're "on the record" for decisionmakers to consider prior to approving any permits. If they weren't resubmitted during the scoping period, however, they may not be included in the scoping record.

  7. Thanks for your reply. And boy is that disappointing.

    1. I don't think it's necessarily a problem. Maybe the lead agencies will decide to include earlier letters in the scoping record. And in any event, Pierce County will also have the chance to comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. If the lead agencies were to decide not to evaluate the issues raised in the letter -- and they're important issues, including effects on the County's effort to get out of Clean Air Act "nonattainment" for particulates and impacts on access to the Point of Tacoma -- Pierce County could point out that it did raise the issues early in the process. The lead agencies would ignore those concerns at their own risk.