Timely Updates

Three major victories in the past two weeks should give heart to those who wonder whether we won’t be overwhelmed by corporate coal interests.

First there is the decision by Whatcom County Planning and Development Services that Gateway Pacific applicant, SSA Marine must reapply for the Shorelines permit, that their initial application filed in 1997 did not address the possibility of their project being a coal port.

The second major achievement in this struggle the Washington State Department of Ecology agreeing to Whatcom County’s request that the state co lead the adjudication of the Environmental Impact Statement concerning GPT.

The third major decision concerns a parallel interest in the Tongue River Valley in Montana, where a BNSF rail project could transform a bucolic back country area into an industrial corridor. A 3 judge Panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the federal Surface Transportation Board had to reconsider and properly consider environmental impacts of running a coal train through the Tongue River Valley. The court was saying that in this case, mitigation of problems was putting the cart before the horse. The Panel’s decision lends strength to the safeguardthesouthfork concern that impacts on the Farm Land Route must be assessed in the EIS prior to permitting of GPT.

Your SGSF board is working hard on behalf of you, our readers and supporters. We are involved in the following initiatives:

  • Meeting with Utilities and Transportation Commission Officials to discuss rail impacts;
  • Coordinating a meeting with Senator Murray’s office where we expect to discuss rail and geopolitical issues which bear upon the siting of the port;
  • Communicating with the United States Coast Guard to verify the extent to which the growth of shipping in the Salish Sea from the U.S and Canada might effect the permitting of GPT;
  • Utilizing a data bank we acquired from the Whatcom County Assessor that provides us with information pertinent to land ownership along the Farm Land Route;
  • Drafting and Distributing a letter and survey for residents along the Farmland Route;
  • Greeting Rick Larsen at the Deming Library, who will be commemorating the advancement of technological services for the library. Join us in politely congratulating him for taking the needs of county residents seriously.

If you are pleased with the work that we are doing on your behalf write to us and offer your suggestions. Your support is always appreciated.

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Opinion Letter

Reprinted from the Foothills Gazette Opinion Letters, June 13-23, 2011

Corridor, Terminal Key Issues

Please do not forget that some of the politicians and local business people who supported the proposed Commerce Corridor that would have ripped up the rural South Fork Valley/Acme area and transformed it from a 2-land highway into an 8-lane mega highway/rail transport system, now support the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point. Don’t let anyone fool you. I hope you will write about the politicians running for County Executive and their views on the old Commerce Corridor plans and the current Gateway Pacific Terminal project, and just who is behind the funding of this Terminal. The advertising says it’s a Washington State company, but 49 percent of the company is owned by Goldman Sachs, one of the companies involved in our country’s financial crisis.

We need to keep our country rural, beautiful and clean, while providing good local jobs for people living here; not jobs for people who will be moving in to fill those jobs. Please report of these serious key issues, especially as the election nears, and I urge residents to do some research on their own.

-David Jennings, County

Action Update: Revised Permit

As outlined below, Pacific International Terminals (SSA Marine) filed for permits with Whatcom County for the Gateway Pacific Terminal, but did not file for a new shoreline permit. Rather, they have filed for a revised permit.  You can read about it in the

This past Friday, Earth Justice, the attorneys who sued Ambre Energy for attempting to circumvent the environmental scoping process in Cowlitz County which resulted in withdrawal of the permit application there, gave notice to Whatcom County that SSA’s permit application is incomplete because it does not ask for a new shoreline permit.  The letter is here.The county has until Friday, June 23, to complete its review of the application and determine whether it is complete or should be returned to SSA. If Whatcom County Planning Division does not follow state law governing revised Shoreline Substantial Development Permits, it is possible that the county will be met with a lawsuit it would cost this county scarce resources to defend their administrative position.

Please consider expressing your opinion to Tyler Schroeder (360-676-6907,techroed@cc.whatcom.wa.us) at Whatcom County Planning & Development Services. Tyler is one of the primary decision makers in charge of the application review. If you feel inclined, you may also contact the county executive: Pete Kremen (pkremen@co.whatcom.wa.us, 360-676-6717).

RESources has some great information available on the importance of taking action during this stage of the process.

Permits and Politics: Pacific International Terminals (SSA Marine)

Proponents of the Gateway Pacific Terminal have asked people to withhold judgments against the process until a thorough EIS review is complete.So what should we make of SSA Marine trying to subvert the process that they encourage us to trust?

Here is a copy of the letter by Earth Justice on behalf of Climate Solutions, Sierra Club and RE Sources sent to Whatcom County in response to Pacific International Terminals (SSA Marine’s) filing of a Major Project Permit and a “Shoreline Substantial Development Permit ” this past week (6/17/11).

Simply put, filing to “revise” a fourteen year old permit attempts to circumvent the law by trying to portray a 300 times larger footprint of the terminal with a 600% volume increase (meaning an increase in ship traffic from 180 to 480 annually) as a minor change. Oh, and then there is the fact that the 1997 permit authorizes the shipment of “grains, petroleum coke, iron ore, sulfur, potash, and wood chips” with no mention whatsoever of coal as a primary export product. As far as public comments regarding the scoping process and the EIS are concerned, because the legality of the permits that have been filed is an open question, we encourage you to wait to comment on the project to county officials until the public comment period is announced during the scoping process.  Once the public comment period for scoping is announced, it means that the county has accepted the permit application. This is not currently the case.

Please contact Tyler Schroeder (360-676-6907, techroed@cc.whatcom.wa.us) at Whatcom County Planning & Development Services or County Executive Pete Kremen (pkremen@co.whatcom.wa.us, 360-676-6717] to NOT PERMIT SSA Marine “at the early stage of the process—to circumvent that close scrutiny, public process and regulatory review by applying for a permit revision rather than a new permit” (Letter to Tyler Schroeder 6/17/11.)

Patty Murray’s S. 942

 

While Mayor Pike’s announcement in oppositionto the proposed coal export terminal in Whatcom County is an important step in getting public officials to publicly oppose coal export from GPT, there is more work to be done in the area of local and national politics.


Take for example, Senator Patty Murray’s S. 942 Transportation Infrastructure Grants and Economic Reinvestment Act. Please take the time to read it closely, but in summary it is an all-purpose transportation infrastructure bill with a big bucket of money that could finance such things as the GPT piers, associated rail and road construction, and wetland mitigation. 

Oh…paid for by taxpayers should also be mentioned. 

There is no exclusion of coal export terminals in the bill either. However, it does exclude the “cost of dredging activities (3b),” which seems to make this bill tailor-maid for GPT.  A trojan horse, as one person put it.

At this stage, SGSF is interested in collecting as much information as we can about this bill. Please email us with your thoughts, comments, insights, and research. We will follow-up this post with a recommended course of action.

Until then, we’ll leave you with a bit of public information that we think may be relevant to understanding this process.

In a 2009 Public Financial Disclosure Report for Patty Murray, her husband, Rob Murray’s, retirement account with SSA Marine is valued between $250 & $500K.  Yes…SSA Marine, the largest marine operator in the world that wants to build a the largest coal export terminal in the country in Whatcom County. 


As the Seattle Weekly states in 2004, while “this connection is not widely known, it’s no secret.”

Upcoming Events: Bill McKibben and Mayor Pike

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RE Sources is hosting Bill McKibben at the Fairhaven Village Green on Tuesday, May 31st at 5:00pm.  The event starts with an information fair and a performance by local band Mille and The Mentshn at 5pm, Bill will take the stage at 7:00. This event is free and open to the public. Invite your friends and neighbors! Click here for more information.

The following evening, Mayor Pike of Bellingham will hold a listening session regarding the coal terminal at 6pm on Wed, June 1 in the large courtroom in Municipal Court. It is important for county residents to make a showing at both the McKibben event and at the listening session to be sure that our voices and concerns are adequately represented and expressed. For those of us living along the alternative or inland route, you might want to brief your self on Mayor Pike’s firm stance towards BNSF considering this route for coal transport and prepare to speak at the meeting in response to similar assumptions.

While BNSF followed Pike’s public comments with their own public announcement claiming that the shoreline route is the only practical route to the proposed GP terminal,we’ll be posting a few facts here on why we don’t trust BNSF. For now, consider attending these events to speak up and defend Whatcom county-wide from the proposals currently on the table from SSA Marine and BNSF.

Bittersweet

NOTE: Our bi-monthly working group meeting for Tuesday May 17th has been RELOCATED to the Van Zandt Community Hall, 7-9. Please extend the invitation to neighbors across communities and counties.

You have probably learned that BNSF execs have been all over town announcing that the coal trains in route to the proposed GP coal export terminal will go through Bellingham and will not go through the South Fork Valley.  While this announcement may seem logical to those familiar with the environmental and structural realities of the route, it is bittersweet. Oh…and talk is cheap and dangerous.

The fact is that there is no shortage of coal to be shipped. If the GP Terminal is built and afterwards BNSF decides to add the Highway 9 route, it is just an internal routing decision rather than a permitted action. It is up to us to continue making our case to be included in the Environmental Impact Statement [EIS] for the proposed GP coal terminal. This announcement should not pacify us to stop taking actions to shape the public policies and decisions that will affect our businesses, land, air, water, and quality of life.

The Highway 9 route is, as always, an alternative route. Each time the Shoreline tracks are shut down [because of mudslides] or overloaded [because of increased rail traffic], trains reroute to the Highway 9 route. Presumably, this will happen more and more frequently when coal trains extending 1.5 miles long become frequent to our region.

SafeGuard the South Fork is taking the stance that ‘announcements’ of this or that by BNSF, SSA, or anyone else should not dissuade collective citizen power and strength by residents in Whatcom and Skagit County concerned about Big Coal turning our communities into a transportation corridor for their Asian markets.