A few weeks ago, Whatcom County Council member Carl Weimer discovered trees had been cleared for dirt roads in the Cherry Point area. He asked county Planning and Development Services (PDS) if they knew anything about these roads and if SSA Marine, the company proposing the multi-million-dollar Gateway Pacific Terminal for the site, had anything to do with it.
On his personal blog
, Weimer described being surprised at seeing such work had been done since PDS had said before SSA Marine had not submitted permits for any sort of work at the site. Weimer estimates about 2.5 miles of dirt road had been cleared through the trees that blanket the area. PDS staff apparently got back to Weimer after seeing the roads for themselves and told him SSA Marine did not have the proper permits to do such clearing. PDS staff also told Weimer they would check to see if SSA Marine needed any forest practices permits from the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
PDS did say SSA Marine had asked for and was given permission by the county to drill monitoring wells to gather core samples of the earth there, which are necessary for the environmental impact statement needed for the project. However, PDS told Weimer that the company did not have explicit permission to clear as many trees as have been cleared in the area.
Earlier this morning, I was emailed a statement from SSA Marine vice president Bob Watters reacting to the questions that have been raised about the road clearing. In the letter, which can be read here
, Watters said SSA Marine had an agreement with the county to do the exploratory work and has since stopped until the questions of the company's compliance with county rules can be cleared up. Allow me to quote a bit from the letter in the interests of accuracy:
"Whatcom County staff told SSA Marine that it didn't need any further permits to conduct the exploration work, including associated clearing for access. In addition, current County critical areas rule exempt exploratory action such as those on this property from wetland and other critical areas regulations as long as the County is provided notice. The County was provided notice."
Watters did not mention DNR permits in the letter. I have an email out to Watters and county planning supervisor Tyler Schroder with some follow-up questions. Check back for updates.