Discussions break down over 1999 Cherry Point terminal settlement agreement

Published on Tue, Aug 2, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Quite a bit's gone down today and yesterday regarding the $600 million Gateway Pacific Terminal proposed for the Cherry Point area south of Birch Bay. First, it was Whatcom County council member Carl Weimer's discovery of cleared trees and grated dirt roads at the site proposed for the terminal; work, it turned out, that did not have county approval. Now it appears attempts at altering the 1999 settlement agreement reached with a variety of state and environmental groups to reflect the changes SSA Marine has made to the project since 1997 have fallen through.

As I've mentioned previously, the Whatcom County Council approved shoreline substantial development and major development permits for SSA Marine's then-8-million-ton-per-year terminal in 1997. the Washington State departments of ecology and fish and wildlife, Washington Environmental Council, North Cascades Audobon Society, People for Puget Sound, League of Women Voters and Ocean Advocates got together to appeal decision, and this appeal produced the 1999 settlement agreement. Under the agreement, SSA Marine would have had to study other terminal impacts, such as its effects on the Cherry Point herring population, in addition to any impacts they would have had to study as part of the county, state and federally mandated environmental review process.

This settlement agreement has been in place for 12 years, and SSA Marine has (by their own admission) not done most of the studies detailed in the agreement due to a lack of regulatory certainty in the Cherry Point area. That means SSA Marine has said they've waited to do most of the studies until the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve management plan was put into place. That plan was signed by state department of natural resources commissioner Peter Goldmark last year.

Now, according to a press release from the Washington Environmental Council, negotiations to amend the settlement agreement to deal with SSA Marine's planned 46 million-ton-per-year addition to the terminal have failed to reach a resolution. It seems the main issue for the environmental groups involved in  the settlement is the addition of coal as a commodity the terminal will handle. Coal was not mentioned in the permits approved in 1997.

A day or so after the Environmental Council's press release was sent out, SSA Marine sent out their own press release telling their side of the story. They said the breakdown of negotiations is unfortunate and that they were willing to make a number of changes to the terminal plan, including:

"Shift its wharf location 1,250 feet from the location previously supported by the environmental groups and permitted by the county, in order to provide potentially greater protections for herring habitat

Conduct a rigorous ballast water program, including:
Requiring every vessel calling at Gateway Pacific Terminal to comply with open-sea ballast water exchange requirements

Paying Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's full costs of ballast water inspection and testing

Holding vessels accountable for unlawful ballast water provisions by banning non-compliant vessels from calling at Gateway Pacific Terminal."

Whether or not discussions breaking down means SSA Marine will no longer make these concessions is unclear. As far as I know, the Washington state departments of ecology and fish and wildlife are stilled involved in the settlement.

Click here to read the Environmental Council's letter. Click here to read SSA Marine's response.


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