Friday, May 18, 2012

Coal: Shanty Town, USA?

Shanty towns are not places most of us want to live in or near. They often reflect extreme poverty and deprivation of the essential health and basic human services most Americans have come to value and expect.

Shanty towns represent the banding together of people who share the same set of problems, often the simple need for shelter near a place where food and/or a source of income is available.

Sometimes they grow as a result of a frenzied effort to obtain wealth or rights to water or property, like the waves of miners and prospectors that have occurred in years past.

Others result from the decline of inner cities or areas devastated by disaster, both natural and man made over time.

In every case, shanty towns aren't very good places for Realtors interested in turning a quick profit, unless, of course, a major redevelopment is planned that will displace those living there.

Then, there are the unplanned changes that bring unanticipated consequences which happen more slowly and are therefore not detected until too late to mitigate them.

Comparing shanty towns with what will happen to Bellingham if the GPT Coal terminal is built may be an exaggeration, but directionally that is what would certainly occur.

Property -both private and public- values will decline, especially along the railroad right-of-way.
Existing connections between our waterfront and inland areas will be affected with negative impacts on business, recreation and ecology.

Those are simply givens that no amount of mind numbing rhetoric will overcome to any one's satisfaction - except those robber baron wannabes who could give a damn for anyone else.

Why is it so difficult to get more people to face up to this real and imminent danger?
Easy to see how politics as usual can be employed to charge up the issue and dumb down the response, isn't it?

Let's cut through that crap and face our choices clearly, now, before real harm is set in motion!

Nowhere in Bellingham's extensive planning and visioning for its future is there a scenario that even remotely dreams of its return to a mill town reminiscent of its pioneer era past.

Those were the days when folks welcomed any kind of job that put food on their table; when the free exploitation of abundant natural resources was literally the raison d'ĂȘtre for settling a place to become known as Bellingham.

That time has passed.
The mills are mostly gone, victims to a global economy.
The coal mines are closed down, for similar reasons.
Timber 'harvesting' still occurs, but at a much reduced and more sustainable pace, because most of the old growth has been clear-cut.
Fishing is a shadow of its former self around here, and now happens somewhere else, in competition with modern methods of depleting the sea's bounty.
And now, we no longer dump our garbage anywhere that's temporarily convenient; instead, we spend millions cleaning up our 'sins of the past'.
Why then, would we wish to turn back the pages of our own history?

Why, would we invite the certain reappearance of old practices in the guise of new jobs, exports, new tax monies - at the expense of our hard won prosperity and peace?
It seems a fool's errand to accept such flawed rationale to justify something no one will enjoy or in their right mind, want.
So, let's not do it. Just say no. It might work, so why not give it a try?

Are you listening, elected leaders?

This week brings a few more articles worthy of mention, including these three from Whatcom Watch:
The Sierra Club has submitted this excellent letter to Whatcom County PDS:

Sam Ryan, Acting Director
Whatcom County
Planning and Development Services
5280 Northwest Drive
Bellingham, WA  98226
May 16, 2012
Dear Ms. Ryan,
This letter presents the comments of the Mt Baker Group of the Sierra Club on the applications submitted to Whatcom County for the Gateway Pacific Terminal for the Shoreline Substantial Development Permit, the Major Project Permit and the Zoning Variance for the coal export terminal proposed at Cherry Point.  We appreciate the opportunity to comment on the permit applications, particularly given the sensitive nature of the Cherry Point site, its environs and the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve.  Cherry Point provides recreational opportunities to our members in Whatcom County and throughout Western Washington for hiking, fishing and kayaking.  We are very concerned about the development of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal and the potential impacts on Cherry Points’ sensitive and important natural resources.   
We believe that the impacts of this project are significant and that the development of the Gateway Pacific Terminal is inconsistent with the applicable Whatcom County plans, policies, and regulations.   In addition, to date, neither the applicant nor the permitting authorities have completed necessary studies on the impacts of development in this area to human health and the environment, including studies specifically identified in applicable Whatcom County plans.  Any permit issued by Whatcom County will be legally inadequate without a full and complete analysis of all of the impacts of this project.  Declines in the herring population are a primary concern, given the importance of herring as a food source for salmon smolts acclimating to salt water. Other wildlife that use the near shore environment in the Georgia Straights are another concern.  Increased ship traffic associated with terminal operations and supplies increases the likelihood of collisions, spills, and threats to recreational boaters. Our concerns are described in more detail below.
Inadequate Study of Project Impacts to Ecological Resources in the Cherry Point area.
The Whatcom County Shoreline Master Program Cherry Point Management Area Policies and the Washington Department of Natural Resources’ Cherry Point Environmental Aquatic Reserve Management Plan (CPEARMP) both identify the importance of herring habitat and regional fisheries in managing development at Cherry Point.    Specifically, the Cherry Point Management Area section of the Whatcom County Shoreline Master Program (SMP) lists specific goals and criteria for shoreline permits.   WCC23.100.17.A.1 identifies “Cherry Point management Area as providing herring spawning habitat and other key habitat characteristics that warrant special consideration due to their importance to regional fisheries and other elements of the aquatic environment. “  It further specifies that, “[i]n the event that the provisions of Section 23.100.17 conflict with other applicable referenced provision of this program, the policies and regulations that are most protective of shoreline resources shall prevail.” (WCC 23.100.12.A.1.e)
The SMP also states that, for industrial uses allowed in the Cherry Point Management Area, they should include:  implementation of the statewide interest(s) have been achieved through protection of shoreline ecological functions and processes [ WCC 23.100.17.B.1.a(1)]; proposed mitigation measures to achieve no net loss of ecological functions and processes are incorporated into the proposal [WCC 23.100.17.B.1.a(3)]; road, railway and utility facilities serving approved waterfront facilities related to water-dependent uses that are located and designed to minimize shoreline alteration are permitted. WCC 23.100.17.B.1.d; and mitigation to achieve no net loss of ecological functions and processes shall be conducted in accordance with SMP 23.90.03 [WCC 23.100.17.B.3.a].
The Cherry Point Environmental Aquatic Reserve Management Plan (CPEARMP) identifies as its primary focus “to protect, enhance, and restore habitats used by Cherry Point herring stock, salmon, migratory and resident birds, Dungeness crab, groundfish rearing areas and marine mammals, as well as the protection of submerged aquatic vegetation and water quality.” (See Section 2. Introduction, Purpose and Content of this Plan).  The Technical Advisory Committee convened by DNR in development the management plan for the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve recognized “Cherry Point as an extraordinary stretch of shoreline with excellent potential to maintain the relatively undeveloped character of the area”.  The herring spawning in the area was recognized as “a unique biological feature of Puget Sound and its importance to the ecosystem”.  Studies of herring habitat and impacts of noise on herring are identified in the plan as essential to maintaining these critical features. The CPEARMP goes on to list as its objectives:
 1.1 Ensure future land use and permit decisions do not alter natural system forming processes, degrade habitat or result in impacts to key species 
3.1 Protect, restore and enhance habitat that supports breeding, nesting, feeding habitat and migratory corridors for fish and wildlife.  Prevent impacts of new structures, shoreline modification, intakes and outfalls on aquatic vegetation, forage fish spawning, and fish migration, and minimize the results of environmental impacts from existing industrial, residential, and recreational uses.  
3.5 Carry out research and monitoring on the causes of species decline within the Reserve in order to develop actions that will be effective in helping with species recovery.  
The research and monitoring that could supply the information necessary to accomplish these objectives has not been completed and therefore is not available to incorporate into the permit criteria.  Herring Behavior Studies need to be completed to determine how best to configure the proposed terminal design to minimize the impacts to herring.  Baseline and annual monitoring of sediment, tissue and water quality are also needed to inform the understanding of current conditions of Cherry Point surrounding habitat.  These data are essential to the formation of permit conditions and criteria that minimize project impacts to Cherry Point near shore habitat, and the creatures that rely on that habitat. 
Section 3 of the CPEARMP (Potential Future Impacts, Shoreline Modifications) states:  “The potential adverse impacts of light, noise shading and vessel traffic on Cherry Point herring spawning, prespawn holding behavior, and preferred migratory corridors have not been well studied; research on these issues is a priority and is addressed further in the management actions.” 
The SMP also specifies that industrial development facilities in Cherry Point Management Area “attenuate proximity impacts such as noise, light and glare, and may address scale and aesthetic impacts” [WCC 23.100.17.B.5.a].  This requirement also supports the need for studies of light impacts from the proposed terminal operations, and the potential for damage to species and habitat in the Cherry Point near shore area.  
The additional information necessary to accomplish the objectives of the CPEARMP includes studies identified in Section 5 (Management Actions), listed as necessary for effective management of the Plan, and excerpted below.
Monitoring, Data Collection, and Research; Data Gap Analysis, Tier 1
  • Identify any additional necessary and immediate protections for forage fish spawning habitats, marine and terrestrial bird habitat, and submerged vegetation.
Baseline Monitoring; Tier 1
  • Conduct detailed seafloor mapping and analyze habitat characteristics within the management area.
  • Identify the location, extent and quality of other forage fish spawning habitat.
  • Measure the diversity, distribution and abundance of intertidal species adjacent to and within the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve.
Baseline Monitoring; Tier 2
  • Complete validation of the herring larval survival and growth test in a commercial lab to finalize protocol for use by regulated community.  This is a high priority because lessees are required to carry out studies as a condition of any lease authorizations associated with increases in stormwater or wastewater discharges.
Trend Monitoring; Tier 1
  • Increase surveys of herring spawn timing and behavior in response to light and noise.
Research; Tier 1
  • Determine causes for small size, low hatch rate and the high rate of abnormal development in Cherry Point herring stock both as an assessment of the intrinsic health of the stock and in regards to the geographical pattern of abnormalities seen in outplants along the shoreline
  • Research ways to reduce shading of herring and forage fish habitat.
  • Assess effects of sound from commercial vessel traffic and dock operations on the spawning behavior of herring.
Allowable Uses; New Overwater Structures
  • Identify potential impacts and extent of salmon and herring behavior and distribution changes over time due to the artificial light and noise from the piers at Cherry Point.  The studies should also investigate the potential changes in species abundance and dominance resulting from increased prey access under artificial lighting, and address ways to reduce or eliminate any identified impacts.
At a minimum, baseline and annual monitoring, herring behavior studies, and habitat mitigation should be completed prior to any permits being issued for the Gateway Pacific Terminal.  Further, the applicant will need to assess the project’s impact on other aquatic species and habitats other than the herring, especially those identified in the CPEARMP, including “salmon, migratory and resident birds, Dungeness crab, groundfish rearing areas and marine mammals, as well as … submerged aquatic vegetation and water quality.” (See Section 2. Introduction, Purpose and Content of this Plan).  The applicant may need to complete additional studies and analyses, other than those identified above, to gather this information and assess the project’s complete impacts on human health and the environment.  Without this necessary information, any permits issued by Whatcom County will be legally inadequate.
Vessel Traffic Impacts Conditioning
The CPEARMP notes that “[m]arine vessel traffic is extensive in the Strait of George in the vicinity of the Reserve.  Cherry Point contains the largest refineries in Washington State; over half of all the crude and refined oil and petroleum products are loaded and offloaded here…. Numbers are not available regarding current vessel traffic into the Reserve.  This information will be collected during plan implementation to inform management actions related to dock operations and traffic risk mitigation strategies.”  (Section 3. Resource Characterization, Current Conditions).  Without this information, identified as essential to the functioning of the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve, the permits for the construction and operation of the export terminal cannot be structured to address and mitigate the impacts of vessels on the Cherry Point near shore environment.  As such, the shoreline master permit should not be issued until this essential information is collected to inform the permit conditions.  
The CPEARMP goes on to identify a need for data on seasonal vessel traffic, near miss/incident data for vessels and traffic between existing regional port operations.  The need for this information is stated as: “Vessel traffic analysis must be completed and an assessment of traffic management needs evaluated as per 1999 Settlement Agreement.” (Section 5. Management Actions, Allowable Uses, New Overwater Structures).  Studies on the following topics have yet to be completed:
  • Tidal currents 
  • Ship and boat vehicle safety
  • Vessel mooring study and plan 
  • Impacts of shipping traffic on tidal circulation and shallow nearshore habitat 
  • Stormwater management.
The additional information that the studies listed above reveal that it is necessary to collect a significant amount of information about existing Cherry Point uses and habitat to identify appropriate permit conditions, and accomplish the objectives identified in the Shoreline Master Program and the Cherry Point Environmental Aquatic Reserve Management Plan.  
While the permit applications have already been determined by PDS to be complete, they are lacking in the detail needed to actually issue permits.  The permits applications are therefore inconsistent with the Whatcom County Shoreline Management Program.  We request that permits are not approved until the information necessary to achieve the policies defined in the Shoreline Master Program and the Cherry Point Environmental Aquatic Reserve Management Plan is acquired.  
If you desire any additional information about these comments or the Sierra Club’s priorities for the Cherry Point area, I can be reached by phone at 360-527-1134 or by email at
Llyn Doremus
Mt Baker Group
2520 Jefferson St
Bellingham, WA 98225