Thursday, August 8, 2013


Clearing compared to project plan

Bob Watters has an Op Ed piece in today’s Herald.  I won’t insult Mr. Watters by suggesting that he “wrote” the Op Ed piece.  His spinmeisters undoubtedly are responsible for that.

The Op Ed is an effort to downplay the significance of SSA's $1.6 million settlement with RE Sources, which sued Pacific International Terminals (owner of SSA Marin) over its illegal land clearing and road building on the site of the proposed Gateway Pacific coal terminal at Cherry Point.

Those who followed Get Whatcom Planning’s coverage of this issue ought to be inoculated against the nonsense in that Op Ed.  In case you missed our coverage, you can read it here (“New Roads for Whatcom County: Gateway Pacific Bulldozes Ahead”) , and here (“The Wrong Place at the WrongTime”),  and here (Road to Nowhere”), and here (“Heedless Destruction”), and here (“How Would That Six-Year Moratorium Work?”), and here (“The Six-Year MoratoriumAgain: What Is ‘The Law’?”), and here (“Thinkin’ Bout a Moratorium”)  , and here (“Piecemealing”).  

I wrote about this so often because I was outraged.  Outraged at the blatant violation of federal, state, and local law and SSA’s brazen efforts to pretend it was no big deal.

From the moment I saw the overlay of road-building compared to what was permitted on the site, there was no question in my mind that this could possibly be a “mistake.” 

Clearing compared to geotechnical well permit
A “mistake” is when your contractors are off by a few feet.  A “mistake” is when communications get garbled and you start a week before you’re authorized.  A “mistake” is when you drill a few extra holes.

Clearing roads in a pattern that has absolutely nothing to do with any permitted activity is no “mistake.”

And that’s what the litigation revealed. 

As RE Sources’ press release on the settlement agreement explained, one of the leading national experts on large-scale construction project management, Philip S. Lanterman, conducted an in-depth analysis of SSA’s “mistake.”  He concluded:

 “In my opinion, it is probable that [SSA-owned] PIT  intentionally chose to proceed with the geotechnical investigation without necessary permits to obtain the expected economic benefit of securing the geotechnical information early in the project timeline, and PIT has actually received such benefit.. . . 

PIT’s efforts to ensure legal compliance of the geotechnical investigation were so far below the standard of care that, in my opinion, they evidence extreme recklessness as to legal compliance or, more likely, an intentional violation of the law.”

In other words, SSA took a calculated risk.  It could break our laws and nobody would find out – or, if they did, so what.  Nobody would do anything about it.

And if it weren’t for RE Sources, that would have been true. 

Is that the kind of business we want in our community?  Is that the kind of operator that we can trust to operate North America’s largest coal terminal in our back yard?


  1. What you haven't mentioned in this post is the complete and utter failure of County Government to properly deal with SSA's violation(s).

    A shipping terminal at Cherry Point has been in the works for twenty plus yr.. So there's been an ongoing relationship between County Planning & Development Services (formerly Building & Codes)and SSA, so it can't reasonably be claimed that County Planning should have cut SSA some slack. Let alone turn a blind eye to a violation of this magnitude.

    Planning should have come down on SSA like a ton of bricks and when they fail to do that, the County Executive and the County Council should have stepped in to correct the situation.

    Sure SSA gambled on getting away with all that road building without getting permits. But it's also clear from the County Governments lack of an appropriate response that SSA had correctly judged that the odds were in favor of unregulated development.

    1. For those interested in contemporaneous coverage of the regulatory capture that Steve describes, the links with the word "Moratorium" in the title discuss the local role.

  2. I suspect that this behavior is what can be expected of the likes of SSA, Sachs, and Peabody. They calculate what the potential fines may be, and go ahead with their plans disregarding the public good entirely. I feel quite sure that if the terminal was built and the inevitable ecological and health carnage occur ed, they would want to have a mechanism in place so that they could just right a check to some organization and it would all go away for them. Nobody in Whatcom county, or along the train route all the way to Powder River, should want to have anything to do with these gangsters.

  3. I'm no attorney, but hey, you are! Might there be cause for folks previously impacted by the six-year moratorium to sue the County on an equal protection claim? At the time everyone was schlepping to let SSA off the hook, I recall comments in the Herald to the effect that so and so got the moratorium for clearing blackberries or dog-hair alder and the like on the margins of their pasture. Might be interesting to have the County disclose prior applications of the moratorium as a basis for cmparison.

  4. If these were 'just mistakes' (at this *relatively*) minor level, then just imagine the extent of 'mistakes' that SSA incompetence implies if GPT were approved. Not acceptable. Deny the necessary permits.

    If these were outright lies, then nothing SSA says -- about jobs, costs, etc -- can be trusted and any permits they apply for should be denied. Very simple: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

    Thanks, Jean, for continuing to push back with facts, intelligence & integrity.