Public agencies take issue with county's reaction to Cherry Point terminal site work

Published on Thu, Sep 29, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

Read More The Lighthouse Blog

Two Washington state agencies have criticized the Whatcom County planning department for not requiring more of the Seattle-based shipping terminal company that did unpermitted work at a site south of Birch Bay.

The negative reactions come after Whatcom County Planning and Development Services (PDS) issued a determination of non-significance for the repair work Seattle-based SSA Marine must complete at the site proposed for the $600 million Gateway Pacific Terminal in the Cherry Point area south of Birch Bay. The determination means SSA Marine could be permitted after the fact for their site exploration work and no environmental assessment of the company's proposed repair work would be completed.

County PDS officials are requiring SSA Marine reforest the approximately 9 acres of roads the company cleared in the process of performing geotechnical surveys of the Cherry Point site. The work, which stopped after about two weeks in July once the county ordered it halted, fell trees and destroyed wetlands on the property. The reforestation must be finished by March 31, 2014, and the trees planted must be allowed to grow for at least one year.

However, representatives from the Washington state departments of ecology (DOE) and archeology and historic preservation (DAHP) sent comment letters to county planning supervisor Tyler Schroeder saying the determination of non-significance should be withdrawn because the repair worked prescribed does not go far enough.

Gretchen Kachler, assistant state archeologist with the DAHP, wrote that the determination the county presented contains no mention of the possible archeological resources that exist on the site. The area affected by the unpermitted work contains a state-recognized archeological site significant to multiple local native tribes, including the Lummi and the Nooksack. Kachler suggested the county and SSA Marine develop a new site repair plan that takes archeological mitigation measures into account.

The DOE, which is already extensively involved in the permitting process for the Gateway Pacific Terminal, said SSA Marine needs to repair an additional 2.9 acres of wetlands because of the time it will take fore the habitat of the area to fully recover. In addition to second growth trees and undergrowth, the DOE said several older cottonwood trees and one large cedar tree were also destroyed.

"In this case, it will take decades for the habitat functions of the cleared wetlands to be replaced," DOE wetlands specialist Susan Meyer wrote.

The DOE's main concerns were with the wetlands mitigation plan SSA Marine submitted to county before PDS staff released the determination of non-significance. In a separate letter to SSA Marine, the DOE recommended an entirely new mitigation plan be submitted that contains the DOE's additions, including the 2.9 more acres of wetlands repair and a monitoring program that will track the health of the site for 10 years.

I'm going to try to get some reaction from county PDS staff and representatives from SSA Marine and turn this into a more complete article for the next issue of The Northern Light. Click here for a PDF of the state agencies' comments, along with other comments from a private group and residents. 


Inside the Lighthouse

Welcome to the Lighthouse, the official blog of The Northern Light newspaper. The Lighthouse is the place for some breaking news, previews of upcoming articles, smaller news items and some tidbits of local information that might not make it into the print edition of The Northern Light.

The Northern Light reporter Steve Guntli will be the main contributor to The Lighthouse, but other staff from The Northern Light may add items from time to time.

The Lighthouse is a work in progress and may undergo substantial changes as readers react to the content posted here. The Northern Light kindly asks for the patience of its readers as we edge ever so slightly into the world of blogging.

Thank you, and enjoy The Lighthouse Blog!