Trial by Fire:  Call to Action to Comment on the BP Pier Expansion

Years after BP completed its north dock, the Army Corps of Engineers released a draft EIS and it’s really really stupid.

Years after BP completed its north dock, the Army Corps of Engineers released a draft EIS and it’s really really stupid.

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UPDATE 7/14/14, 11:45 a.m. The days of the week originally published for the upcoming Bellingham and Seattle hearings were incorrect and have been changed. 


Two years ago I reviewed BP Cherry Point documents on file with Whatcom County Planning and Development Services (PDS) after submission of a Public Records Act request. I learned at that time that when BP was originally permitted in the 70s, the plans submitted to PDS called for two piers but initial construction only included the south dock. The north pier was added in 2001 without benefit of an environmental impact statement (EIS). The county considered it grandfathered under SEPA (the State Environmental Policy Act), according to PDS personnel with whom I spoke.

PDS was probably right about SEPA, but because of the Magnuson Act -- intended to cap crude tanker numbers to 1977 levels in the Salish Sea -- Fred Felleman, as Ocean Advocates,[1]  was able to pursuade the federal courts the federal government should have conducted an EIS under NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act) to consider whether the new pier could result in increased crude tanker traffic and if risk might increase under any foreseeable scenarios. The Corps had blithely assumed two piers were better than one and that risk would decrease. 

Fred was in town on July 10 to explain to the local community what the main issues with the DEIS are. Samantha Wohlfeil's article for the Bellingham Herald did an excellent job of distilling Fred's guidance.  The truly intrepid can read the DEIS for themselves, along with other documents located on the Corps' website, linked at "Updates on High Profile Projects (BP Cherry Point ...)." I have attempted to summarize the issues below for those wishing to submit comments, orally or in writing.

Take Action

There are several things folks can do:

  • Go online and sign a pre-written comment here  
  • Attend one of the public hearings:
    • Bellingham:  Wednesday, July 16, 7:00 pm at Shuksan Middle School Gymasium, 2717 Alderwood Ave., Bellingham. Doors open at 6:00 pm for an open house
    • Seattle:  Thursday, July 24, 2014, 7:00 pm, Federal Center South Galaxy Rooom, 4735 E. Marginal Way S. (picture ID required). Doors open at 6:00 pm for an open house
  • Comment, orally at the hearings, or by submitting your own written comment to Olivia Romano, Written comments are due by August 6.  A sample letter from Friends of the Earth is located here.  

Major Issues

Fred Felleman has asked us to focus on these issues in comments:

  1. The Corps must include an alternative that limits the number of crude oil tankers allowed to call on both docks to the maximum number able to call on the original dock (N=138).  This includes use for both imports and exports as well as for unconventional crudes derived from tar sand deposits (eg, dilbit). Further, the new dock should be limited to refined product only and not crude due to the Magnuson Act.
  2. The Corps must recalculate spill risk from increased vessel traffic assuming maximum traffic at both the south and north piers, and it should not have capped expected increases in tanker traffic because of increased reliance on Bakken crude by rail without assessing risks of that rail movement. In short, the market is variable. Bakken supply may be limited or cut off due to rail capacity and other reasons. The Corps cannot simply assume Bakken crude will offset supply arriving by vessel for all scenarios.
  3. Reasonably foreseeable future increases in vessel traffic – not only at the pier, but also cumulatively in other parts of the Salish Sea – must consider potential increases if the ban on domestic imports were lifted; terminals completed or expanded in British Columbia; increased refining capacity at BP and other area refineries, etc.
  4. The Corps does not consider, as a mitigation, a requirement that all vessels pre-boom. Every tanker calling on the dock(s) should be surrounded with oil spill booms before transferring and transfers  should be suspended when the weather is too rough for booming.

1.  Fred was joined in his suit by RE Sources and other local groups for standing purposes. The case, Ocean Advocates v. United States Army Corps of Engineers, 402 F.3d 846 (9th Cir. 2005)is described here. Ocean Advocates, the entity, no longer exists. Fred, who is now the Northwest Consultant for Friends of the Earth, is continuing to lead the appellants.

About Terry Wechsler

Citizen Journalist • Member since May 19, 2013

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