Whatcom County planning attorney: Development moratorium should not be imposed against SSA Marine

Published on Fri, Aug 19, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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This just in (I've always wanted to say that): Royce Buckingham, attorney for Whatcom County Planning and Development Services (PDS), has advised against imposing a six-year development moratorium on the proposed site of the $600 million Gateway Pacific Terminal, which Seattle-based shipping terminal company SSA Marine wants to build just south of the BP Cherry Point Refinery.

PDS staff have released a letter sent to county planning officials in which Buckingham says a state regulation overrides the section of county code that requires the six-year moratorium if forest practice rules are violated. According to the letter, a landowner's unauthorized conversion of land to nonforestry use, that is, removing forest that covers the land and building something that is incompatible with timber growth, is what triggers the six-year development moratorium. The term "conversion" is key here.

In a Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) "Informal Conference Note," DNR officials said SSA Marine told them they were not intent on converting the site in question to nonforestry use when they authorized tree-clearing and road-grading at the site. Allow me to quote from the above-referenced document:

"[SSA Marine] stated that these corridors were temporary in nature and would be reforested while further potential permitting is underway. The timeframe of this permitting process is likely 3-5 years."

So, according to DNR, SSA Marine did not intend to convert the land to nonforestry use, though the company did clear trees without the proper forest practices permit. This action, however, does not fall under the definition of conversion to nonforestry use.

Buckingham writes that Whatcom County can impose the six-year development moratorium only when the DNR has sent the county an official "notice of conversion." DNR officials did not do that in this case, so Buckingham says the county planning director should not impose the moratorium.

Whatcom County, however, will still be imposing $2,000 in fines against SSA Marine for the unpermitted work they did at the Cherry Point site.

Click here to see Buckingham's letter.


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