The Bellingham-based environmental group that has been one of the strongest voices of opposition against the Gateway Pacific Terminal has filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the Seattle-based shipping terminal company proposing the project.
Representatives from RE Sources for Sustainable Communities announced today that they intend to sue SSA Marine for Clean Water Act violations at the site of the proposed $600 million Gateway Pacific Terminal. The notice is based on violations SSA Marine incurred in clearing approximately 9 acres of trees and wetlands at the Cherry Point site just south of Birch Bay without the proper permits.
Bob Ferris, the executive director of RE Sources, said the group has been gathering the appropriate information to file suit against SSA Marine for some time, but decided to announce the notice of intent today because of SSA Marine’s recent application for retroactive permits with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Ferris said he hopes the lawsuit will help encourage the Corps to enforce the law and deny SSA Marine’s permit applications.
The 60-day notice means SSA Marine has roughly two months to settle the grievances RE Sources has with the company, but Ferris said that is not likely to happen based on the current situation. The shipping terminal company would have to reforest the site in 60 days for RE Sources to reconsider their lawsuit.
This move comes after two Washington state agencies criticized Whatcom County Planning and Development Services for not requiring more of SSA Marine after they did the unpermitted survey work at the Cherry Point site.
County PDS officials are requiring SSA Marine reforest the approximately 9 acres of roads the company cleared in the process of doing the work. The work, which stopped after about two weeks in July once the county ordered it halted, felled 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.
Ferris said Whatcom County was mistaken in not seeking a six-year development moratorium against SSA Marine after the unpermitted work was revealed. The lawsuit will hopefully make it uncomfortable for the Army Corps to make an unlawful decision in accepting SSA Marine’s retroactive permits, Ferris said.
“It’s ridiculous on its face,” Ferris said in reference to SSA Marine’s attempts to seek permits for the surveying work after the fact.
Ferris could not predict what SSA Marine’s reaction to RE Sources' intent to sue might be. He said SSA Marine’s early assurance that they were in their rights to do the surveying work then later admitting that they were in error shows they are not much concerned with their public persona.
“I don’t think modesty is in their game plan,” Ferris said.