Carl Weimer recently posted a comment on facebook comparing the Comp Plan revision process (intended to keep us in compliance with the Growth Management Act) to watching paint dry. Sam Crawford saw Carl’s analogy and raised him one. Crawford likened public engagement on “GMA stuff” to watching a 10-hour You Tube video of the Hitler character in Inglorious Bastards continuously saying, “Nein.” Local activist planning wonks have probably already submitted their comments on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Comprehensive Plan 2016 revisions. For the general public, our opportunity to ask for an EIS at Cherry Point is now. The state had a chance to conduct that EIS when DNR developed the Aquatic Reserve Plan, but did not do it. Now, the county has the opportunity. Please submit a comment urging the county to conduct an area-wide EIS for the Cherry Point UGA. Comments must be received by 5:00 p.m. Monday, April 7, to email@example.com
A major element of the Comp Plan is the Cherry Point UGA. Currently, the Preliminary Growth Allocation Proposal states:
“Cherry Point shall be designated as an unincorporated industrial urban growth area in recognition of existing large scale industrial land uses. Additional large scale development shall be encouraged consistent with the ability to provide needed services and consistent with protecting critical areas along with other environmental protection considerations. The Cherry Point industrial area is an important and appropriate area for industry due to its access to deep water shipping, rail, all-weather roads, its location near the Canadian border, and its contribution to the County’s goal of providing family wage jobs.”
In other words, planning at Cherry Point is driven by the underlying assumption that “large scale development shall be encouraged … [because] Cherry Point … is an … appropriate area for industry….” But what has never occurred over the past 60 years is a full-blown study of whether industrial activity is actually consistent with a sensitive aquatic environment.
The history of Cherry Point, beginning with construction of the first pier in 1954 by Mobile Oil (then Tosco), has been remarkable. Starting with the passage of the Coastal Zone Management Act by the federal government in 1972, to development of the Cherry Point Environmental Aquatic Reserve Management Plan in 2010 – none of these policies has ever resulted in actual protection for the environment. Even the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) states in the Aquatic Reserve Management Plan, “existing industrial uses at Cherry Point are not incompatible with goals for the long-term protection of the aquatic resources within and adjacent to the aquatic reserve.” The statement was made without benefit of any coordinated environmental analysis that considers all environmental elements including impacts on declining species of flora and fauna or historic and cultural tribal resources. DNR’s compatibility finding is at odds with their conclusion that “[a]ddressing uncertainties related to species decline [at Cherry Point] is a priority.” The Aquatic Reserve Plan is replete with descriptions of studies documenting those declines, most of which identify no causes and call for additional study.
What should be occurring is a joint effort by the federal, state, and local governments, in consultation with the tribes, to consider whether any industrial activity at Cherry Point is appropriate or compatible with protecting that area. Sixty years ago, it may have been appropriate to place all emphasis on geographic uniqueness, proximity to Canada, and ability to “contribut[e] to the County’s goal of providing family wage jobs.” But today, with Cherry Point supporting less than 10% of the county’s industrial jobs, the impacts and permanent implications probably must replace economic benefit as chief priority.
We can’t depend on Gateway Pacific Terminal’s EIS alone to give us the information necessary to test the assumption that industrial activity is compatible with maintaining biological functions of the aquatic environment at Cherry Point, because it will almost certainly focus as narrowly as possible on that proposal’s contribution in spite of the fact that the EIS should consider the cumulative effect of all past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future impacts. Project-specific EIS’s, further, are discouraged as “piecemealing” because what results more often than full-blown EIS’s are threshold determinations of nonsignificance, as occurred for both the BP Cherry Point and Conoco Phillips crude-by-rail infrastructure proposals.
Any effort to address the need for an area-wide EIS at Cherry Point would certainly meet with resistance and the current county council probably lacks the political will to demand such a study of PDS if the recent firestorm that erupted in response to the Lummi position on GPT is any indication. The Lummi Nation announced a strong position in opposition to the proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point in a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, citing impacts to usual and accustomed fishing rights. Public messaging by their Sovereignty and Treaty Protection Office, however, has focused on sacred grounds, and it was that issue which drew support from the faith community and resulted in a July 2013 resolution of the Whatcom Democrats which stated, in part, “We propose and support the rejection of all industrial, commercial and residential uses of the remaining natural lands and waters on and adjacent to Cherry Point.”
Those 26 words became one of two major themes of the 2013 county council elections (the other being outside money), with “Pro Jobs”/”No Jobs” defining messaging against the Whatcom Wins slate of candidates. Not surprising were the letters to the editor of the Bellingham Herald, one of which described the resolution as “job killing.” Delaine Clizbe, a co-founder of Save Whatcom, the conservative PAC organized to support Tea Party-endorsed candidates, went so far in her LTE as to claim the democratic candidates had endorsed it, which they had not. In fact, it passed with less than 40 votes, which when compared to the 44,000 county residents who voted for Barack Obama in the last presidential election, meant that their claims “the party” had passed the resolution strained credulity.
Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen, a Democrat but one of the earliest public supporters of GPT (he is currently featured prominently on the terminal’s main page), wrote an op ed before the election mischaracterizing the resolution as “opposing any and all business development at Cherry Point. After the election, representatives of developers and labor wrote an op ed bemoaning the amount of outside money donated to the Whatcom Wins campaign and insinuating any eventual “no” votes on GPT permits would be inconsistent with the science and prove the lie to the rejection of the resolution by democratic council candidates during campaign season. The Bellingham Herald ultimately gave the matter honorable mention as a “top story” of 2013, presumably because political writer Ralph Schwartz had mentioned it so many times, including here and here and here and here. The issue became such a hot potato, the Democratic party hid the resolution on their website, and old links to it lead to the slate instead.(A request was made to the party for active links but as of publication, they have not responded.)
Labor, of course, had “an extremely hard time swallowing what Mark Lowry described as a categorical rejection of absolutely every type of proposal at Cherry Point, which only makes sense in the context of the county’s current Comp Plan estimate of employment growth capacity on remaining undeveloped land, which is 951 jobs according to the Preliminary Growth Allocation Proposal. That number, however, is based on outdated information in the Land Use chapter of the Comp Plan, which states the Cherry Point UGA, in addition to the proposed terminal, could support two additional industrial facilities comparable to Intalco and BP.
In actuality today, all remaining undeveloped land at Cherry Point is owned by Pacific International Terminals (PIT), the GPT proponent. PIT’s permit application does not describe anything other than a terminal on their land because undeveloped land beyond the terminal footprint – or the trees on that land, to be precise – is supposedly an integral part of their dust suppression “system” designed to prevent fugitive coal dust from the proposed 6-story high/80-acre coal pile from reaching waters of the Salish Sea. The employment projections for GPT, further, are vastly less than 951. According to Table 4-3 of the permit application, there will be 201 jobs in seven years with full operational capacity of the coal terminal, and 213 jobs 5 years after that if the second other-commodities terminal were built.
Property rights proponents have long argued that limiting PIT’s ability to develop the land they own at Cherry Point would constitute a taking, which is not true. Takings require loss of all economic benefit in the land, not mere diminution. Further, takings are legal. They simply require the public to reimburse the property owner the fair market value of the land. The Growth Management Hearings Board has already held, in Ostram v. Whatcom County, WWGMHB 05-2-0017, that economic development goals in the GMA, RCW 36.70A.020(5), do not mean project proponents may not be economically impacted. The Ostram Board said, “regulating the location of a specific business or business activity” in compliance with the GMA is not inconsistent with the economic development goals of the GMA merely because it “places [a project proponent] at an economically difficult, if not untenable, position. … [T]he economic development goal of the GMA is designed to promote the overall economic health of the state rather than the specific interests of an individual business.” [Emphasis added.]
DNR has already stated in the Aquatic Reserve Plan that granting of a lease for a fourth pier at Cherry Point is not a given, nor is renewal of existing leases. Those determinations will be made on a case-by-case basis weighing impacts on the environment. Those determinations, however, must be fully informed by a comprehensive EIS. The county now has the opportunity to perform that EIS. Please ask the County Council to conduct an area-wide EIS for the Cherry Point UGA. And remember, comments must be submitted by 5 p.m. Monday, April 7, to firstname.lastname@example.org.