(Page 2 of 2)
SSA Vice President Bob Watters agrees that SSA has not done the work it promised, but says the company had its reasons. His explanation suggests that it’s the fault of the Department of Natural Resources, the state agency controlling the use of Washington tidelands.
DNR administers the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve, 3,000 acres of saltwater set aside in 2000 for special management. For the first 10 years there was no document spelling out details of how the Aquatic Reserve would managed. Without those details, Watters contends, it would not have been economically prudent for SSA to do the studies it had agreed to.
“DNR had declared the area part of an Aquatic Reserve but there was no management plan,” Watters told Crosscut. “So we didn’t know what the restrictions would be, or if it would even be economically desirable to build the project. No bank would lend on such a project if we didn’t know whether we’d ever get to do it.”
“Now that we have the management plan and have seen the language, we can do the studies.”
Resource specialists who have worried over the herring for years find it hard to aceept Watters’ explanation. They point out that the 1999 settlement contains nothing about the DNR’S management plan being completed, nor the project being economically desirable, nor banks being willing to lend. For whatever reasons, the studies remain undone and a dozen years of data, which might have helped solved the herring dilemma, were never gathered.
The company has applied for new federal and state permits to build the terminal. Whatcom County planning officials ruled that the company’s 1999 permit is no longer valid and it must apply for a new one.
Coming events may seem eerily familiar to anyone who was watching state politics 30 years ago. Cherry Point herring — and the creatures that feed on them and with them — created heavy political drama in the early 1980s. Industrial companies came bearing gifts in return for the right to develop at Cherry Point in ways that could have damaged the herring, salmon, crab and shorebirds that hang out there. State regulators, biologists and activist citizens opposed the projects and one by one, Gov. John Spellman turned them down:
- 1975. The (6) Northern Tier Pipeline company began a seven-year campaign for approval to bring Alaskan crude oil ashore at Cherry Point, headed for the Midwest. Spellman blocked it in 1981, on grounds that it presented too great a risk of an oil disaster in the Sound.
- 1982. Chicago Bridge and Iron Corporation wanted to build oil-drilling platforms at Cherry Point, for use in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea. The state legislature created a special law for the company, specifically removing the CBI property from the state’s fledgling shoreline protections. Spellman vetoed the bill, following a political conflict that gripped the state capitol for months.
- 1983. Peter Kiewit, Inc. pushed a similar oil platform scheme; the state departments of Ecology and Fish and Wildlife recommended against it, and Spellman again said no.
The very same piece of property and descendants of the same fish will be the center of conflict in the next few years, as scientific panels ponder SSA’s proposal. This time, however, any potential threat is more subtle. No one is trying to dredge a channel into the tidelands or build an artificial lagoon to be periodically drained into the sea, as CBI wanted to do. SSA is more politically savvy and not so brazenly self-confident as its predecessors. It carefully secured political, business, and organized labor support for a port, before revealing in February that 80 percent of what it ships will be coal.
The state is even more strapped for jobs and money than it was in the Spellman days. The herring have dwindled to a sliver of the abundance Gov. Spellman worried about. Salmon fishing is a fraction of the major business it was in the early 1980s. Conditions seem favorable for a shift in public policy that might look something like this: if we damage a resource badly enough, for so long that it barely exists, then we can shrug it off in exchange for jobs and revenue.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!